Can Music Reduce Pain Levels?

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

An interesting question exists:

Can certain types of music lessen the intensity of pain in some patients?

Intuitively, I’ve always felt that music can have a deep effect on us.  Some types of music are deeply relaxing, while at the other end of the music spectrum, it can literally ‘shake us out of our boots’.

Depending on the type of music being listened to, music can evoke 1 or more of a complex range of emotions in the listener including positive emotions such as awe/reverence/gratitude, love, joy, and/or lust/passion (in our imagination or otherwise), or negative emotions such as grief/sadness, hate, and/or anger.

Hans-Joachim Trappe reports that music can cause changes in  heart rate as well heart rate variability.  Cerebral blood flow can be significantly reduced when listening to ‘Va pensioero’ (from Verdi’s ‘Nabucco‘).  A study found that relaxing, preoperative music decreased anxiety levels more effectively than oral midazolam (both ‘before’ and ‘after’ an operation)….with fewer side effects than midazolam.  Stress-related cortisol levels were significantly reduced in the music group after 30 minutes of bed rest, post-operation, compared to the non-music group.

Depending on the patient’s taste in different types of relaxing music, music involving classical and meditation music had the best results.

It is important to note that if the patient prefers meditative music over classical music, then it is likely that classical music will not reduce their pain levels at all.  In these patients, meditative music may be more effective at reducing pain levels.

This was clearly demonstrated by Montreal researchers who reported that only the ‘pleasant‘ parts of music (that induce positive emotions) resulted in significant reductions in both pain levels and unpleasantness due to experimental thermal pain in healthy people.  Thus, the ‘pleasant‘ music reduced pain significantly, while the ‘unpleasant‘ music did not change pain.

It is important to note that the notion of ‘pleasant‘ versus ‘unpleasant‘ music may vary from one person to the next.

In other words, just as ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, the ‘pleasantness of relaxing music is in the ear of the beholder’.

Some people may prefer to listen to more relaxing music than others.  Still others may prefer the sound of silence over relaxing music.

Reduced heart rate, increased heart rate variability, reduced respiratory rate, etc, are all important parameters that may be regularly monitored to assess (and confirm) their links with reduced pain levels.  More research is warranted.  More on this topic in future posts…..

Have a great day,

Sabina Walker


(1) Bernardi et al; Dynamic interactions between musical, cardiovascular, and cerebral rhythms in humans. Circulation 2009; 30(119):3171–80.

(2) Roy, Peretz, Rainville; Emotional valence contributes to music-induced analgesia. Pain 2008 Jan; 134(1-2):140-7.

(3) Hans-Joachim Trappe; Role of music in intensive care medicine; Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci. 2012 Jan-Apr; 2(1): 27–31.

doi: 10.4103/2229-5151.94893

PMCID: PMC3354373

(4) Hans-Joachim Trappe; [Music and health–what kind of music is helpful for whom? What music not?].  [Article in German]; Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2009 Dec; 134(51-52):2601-6.

doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1243066.

One thought on “Can Music Reduce Pain Levels?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s