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Music Therapy Helps Reduce Pain, High Blood Pressure, Depression and More

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You may have heard that music therapy has played a significant role in the ongoing recovery of former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords from a gunshot wound to the head.

What you may not know: An increasing body of evidence shows that music therapy—whether it includes the listener’s favorite Bach sonatas or Beach Boys’ classics—can help improve symptoms associated with a wide variety of common health problems. For example…

PAIN

One of the fastest-growing areas of research on music therapy relates to pain management.

Recent finding: In a study published in Clinical Rheumatology in 2011, 62 patients underwent joint lavage (an invasive and painful procedure used to treat knee osteoarthritis). Patients who listened to recorded lyrical music for five to 10 minutes before and then throughout the 10- to 20-minute procedure had lower heart rates and were better able to tolerate pain than nonlisteners were.

What this means for you: If you are about to undergo surgery, or even a routine but potentially painful procedure at the dentist, for example, listening to your favorite music for five to 10 minutes beforehand may help you feel more comfortable. Focusing on positive associations from the music may distract you from any pain you will feel during the procedure.

If you are waking up from anesthesia in the recovery room, hearing comforting, familiar music can help prevent feelings of panic, disorientation and pain.

Important: Talk to your doctor about your desire to listen to music, and use headphones so you don’t distract him/her during the procedure. Work out a system for answering your doctor’s questions while you are wearing headphones.

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure (hypertension) is commonly treated with diet, exercise and medication. Music therapy is another option.

Important finding: A study published in 2009 reported that patients over age 50 with mild hypertension lowered their blood pressure by 16 points systolic (top number) and nine points diastolic (bottom number) after a 12-week program of music therapy and blood pressure medication. Those who used medication alone reduced systolic pressure by four points and diastolic by three points.

What this means for you: If you take blood pressure medication, you may be able to lower your blood pressure even more with music therapy. Throughout the day, listen to any music that calms you to help prevent stress-related blood pressure spikes.

ANXIETY

Anxiety can occur in response to a stressful situation such as public speaking or from chronic stress.

Important finding: A 2010 study in the journal Heart found that listening to relaxing music—such as sonatas by Bach or Mozart—reduced feelings of anxiety in patients about to undergo heart surgery even more than the antianxiety medication midazolam (Versed). Music therapy was found to help reduce patients’ heart rates and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

What this means for you: Music can be used to reduce anxiety due to a stressful situation or chronic stressors. Prior to a speaking engagement or any other stressful event, listen to calming music or try singing your favorite song.

While Bach and Mozart were used in the study, look for music that you find soothing. Experiment with different types of music and test their impact on your mood. Then create your own playlist to elicit the desired feelings.

DEPRESSION

Americans who are depressed tend to rely mainly on prescription antidepressants. However, these drugs are notorious for side effects such as nausea, headaches and sexual dysfunction.

Recent finding: After reviewing 17 studies that tested whether listening to music could reduce depression symptoms in adults, a 2011 meta-analysis concluded that music can be used to help combat depression if listened to regularly for at least three weeks.

What this means for you: Using music to improve your mood can be a fun and cost-effective way to help ward off negative feelings caused by mild depression. Important: Add music therapy to your daily life—not just when you are feeling blue. Play around with familiar songs and new pieces to find the music that makes you feel best.

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Source: Suzanne B. Hanser, EdD, coauthor with Susan Mandel, PhD, of the book and CD Manage Your Stress and Pain Through Music (Berklee). She is the founding chair of the music therapy department at Berklee College of Music in Boston and past president of the American Music Therapy Association and the World Federation of Music Therapy. Date: June 1, 2012 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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