Everyone has experienced the instant and profound effect that music can have on our emotions. For example, in nearly every culture around the world mothers sing to their babies to soothe them. However, music’s effects are not just emotional, but also physical.
Brand new research has revealed that music therapy—specifically easy listening or classical music such as Sinatra, Beethoven, or Vivaldi—speeds the rate of physical healing for surgical patients.
The study was conducted at John Radcliffe Hospital Oxford. Patients were divided into 2 groups. Both groups underwent surgical operations under local anesthetic— but the first group had music played during their procedures while the second group did not.
The researchers monitored the patients’ anxiety levels before, during, and after their operations by measuring their respiratory rates as well as asking them to rate their own anxiety on a scale.
The study results, published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons, showed that the patients who had music therapy during their operations reported 29% lower anxiety levels and had a lower average breathing rate.
These results are impressive because of the destructive effects that anxiety can have on health outcomes. Anxiety before, during, or after an operation can trigger stress hormones that lead to inflammatory responses. Inflammation can slow down or even prevent healing. That can lead to longer hospital stays and increased use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
The landmark study was the first to prove the benefits of music therapy on planned and emergency operations.
Music Therapy May Help Prevent Rejection of Transplanted Organs
In yet another remarkable study, music therapy actually reduced rejection of heart transplants in mice by influencing the immune system. Researchers from Japan found that opera and classical music both increased the time before the transplanted organs failed, but single frequency monotones and new age music did not.
Science Daily reported on the study, which was published in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery:
Music therapy has a fundamental affect on humans. It can reduce stress, enhance relaxation, provide a distraction from pain, and improve the results of clinical therapy…
The link between the immune system and brain function is not clearly understood, nevertheless music therapy is used clinically to reduce anxiety after a heart attack, or to reduce pain and nausea during bone marrow transplantation.
There is some evidence that music may act via the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the bodily functions that we have no conscious control over, including digestion.
These studies and others like them offer fascinating scientific insight into the power of music therapy, something we have all experienced in our daily lives, whether or not we can explain it.