Music may be a ‘useful, effective and harmless’ pain management strategy


February 23, 2022

3 minute read


Source/Disclosures


Source: Healio Interview


Disclosures: Soinila does not report any relevant financial information.


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According to the researchers, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that music therapy can be an effective method for relieving pain.

Amid the opioid epidemic, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the NIH, and other medical organizations are promoting non-pharmacological approaches to pain management.





“Generally, the level of analgesia achieved by the majority of chronic pain patients is unacceptably low, and treatment is too often based solely on a pharmacological approach,” Seppo Soinila, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at the Central Hospital of the University of Turku and the Center of Excellence in Music, Mind, Body and Brain in Finland, told Healio.

Soinila recently co-wrote a review in the pain diary which reviewed the evidence supporting music as an alternative therapy for chronic and acute pain.

“Given the growing research evidence, music should be considered an evidence-based part of pain treatment regimens, rather than just a recreational factor,” he said. “It is complementary to traditional treatments. It is cost-effective and safe and may produce – in addition to analgesia – also relief from pain-associated depression, anxiety and insomnia.

In an interview with Healio, Soinila provided more insight into the potential role of music as a pain management strategy.

Helio: What evidence is there to suggest that music helps relieve chronic pain?

Soinila: Over the past 20 years, several good quality randomized controlled trials have been published on the analgesic effects of music-related procedures in various clinical entities, such as cancer pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and others.

Helio: What is the strength of the evidence?

Soinila: In general, the evidence is compelling. Music has proven to be useful, effective and harmless. Its effectiveness has been confirmed in a recent meta-analysis of 14 trials. However, a limitation is that the interventions used are heterogeneous. In some studies, cohorts are relatively small and long-term effects are largely unknown. Additionally, no studies on music-induced analgesia in neuropathic or nociplastic pain conditions have been published.

Healio: Is music therapy intended to replace more traditional pain management strategies? Why or why not?

Soinila: There is no evidence to suggest that music-related therapies should replace drugs or other non-pharmacological therapies. Interestingly, however, evidence from postoperative pain studies shows that regular music listening reduces the need for opioids.

Helio: What kind of music works best to reduce chronic pain?

Soinila: Current evidence indicates that patient-selected music is more effective than researcher-selected music. Otherwise, no comparison of the analgesic efficacy of various musical genres has been published. Yet the common assumption that music-induced analgesia is related to relaxing characteristics (slow tempo, no lyrics) has been challenged by a recent study reporting that pain patients prefer dance music to high energy with lyrics.

Helio: Which patients are the most sensitive to music therapy?

Soinila: This is a largely misunderstood area. Interestingly, it appears that musicality is not a prerequisite for a positive response to music-related therapy.

Healio: What are the prerequisites for successful implementation in a primary care setting?

Soinila: Essentially, the intervention must be tailored to the patient’s clinical condition as well as their personal interests and motivation. The technical realization must be adapted to the limits of the painful state. Sufficient supervision and follow-up by a pain nurse and support from spouse, loved ones, etc. are desirable.

Helio: Is there anything you would like to add?

Soinila: Although listening to music is generally safe, evaluation of an individual patient as a beneficiary of music-related pain treatment should include consideration of potential negative effects. Some migraine patients may be hypersensitive to acoustic stimuli and some stroke patients may suffer from amusia, such as an inability to perceive music.

The references:

A treatment enhancement protocol. Management of chronic pain in adults with substance use disorders or in recovery. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma13-4671.pdf. Accessed February 22, 2022.

Devitt M. Non-pharmacological therapies can improve chronic pain outcomes. https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20200115nonpharmtx.html. Published January 15, 2020. Accessed February 22, 2022.

Non-pharmacological pain management. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/about/nonpharmacologic-management-of-pain. Accessed February 22, 2022.

Qaseem A, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2017;doi:10.7326/M16-2367.

Alleviating Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22553896/ Published 2011. Accessed February 22, 2022.

Sihvonen AJ, et al. J Pain. 2022; doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2022.01.003.

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