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Catherine Meads
Catherine Meads found that listening to Pink Floyd's album helped her to relax following her surgery earlier this year. Source: bbc.co.uk

Music ‘reduces pain and anxiety’ in surgery patients

A review has found that listening to music before, during and after surgery can help reduce pain.

According to researchers at Queen Mary University of London, patients who listened to music were less anxious after their surgery and required less pain relief. Writing in the Lancet, they explained that even when under anaesthetic patients were still positively affected by the use of music.

Scientists want the NHS to begin suggesting (via information leaflets) that patients bring music devices and playlists with them when they are heading to hospital. The Department of Health is also hoping that these results are acknowledged “this is very interesting research. We hope doctors consider the findings closely, because we want patients to have the best experience and recovery possible when they undergo surgery.”

The team of scientists reviewed 70 trials, comprising of approximately 7,000 patients around the time of their surgery, they compared a large array of music (mostly “soothing”) with undisturbed bed rest, headphones with no music, white noise, and routine care. Although there was an improvement when it came to pain, stress and anxiety, the use of music did not result in a shorter hospital stay.

Dr Catherine Meads, the lead author of the study, said that when she had surgery on her hip in April, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon helped soothe her pain three hours after the procedure. She describes music as a safe, cheap and non-invasive option and explains that it should “be available to everyone having surgery… Currently music is not used routinely during surgery to help patients in their post-operative recovery. The lack of uptake is often down to the scepticism of professionals as to whether it genuinely works, and of course issues of budget and the integration into daily practice.”

Dr Meads herself found the positive results of music under anaesthetic interesting, explaining that “it was quite a surprise”. Researchers are planning to follow up their work by carrying out a study this autumn at the Royal London Hospital. The study will offer around 40 women – having a hysterectomy or Caesarean section – the opportunity to connect their playlist to a pillow with in-built loudspeakers.

There have been studies that suggest that music in surgery has the capability of being distracting. Dr Meads echoes and warns that care should be taken when it comes to the application of music, and steps should be taken to ensure that the music does not interfere with communication between the medical team.

Plastic surgeon Hazim Sadideen of University Hospitals Birmingham has also researched the use of music and has deemed the study to comprehensive explaining, “Undertaking both minor and major surgery can induce stress. Music can be used as an additional modality or adjunct to improve the patient journey, of course, it is important to ensure the patient and theatre team would like music to be played.”

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