What’s On Your Pain Relief Playlist?

Most people will occasionally have a few days or weeks when something hurts. Think of back pain, headaches, or period pains for example. Now, researchers have found that listening to music can make such pain more bearable, as long as you get to have a say in what music to listen to.

Listening to music can somewhat relieve the pain of headaches, as long as you choose the music … [+] yourself.


In a research paper published today in PLOS One, Claire Howlin (Queen Mary University of London) and her colleagues from University College Dublin announced that they’ve found a connection between pain relief and choosing what music you want to hear.

This isn’t the first evidence that suggests that music relieves pain, but the research team tried to make this study more true to life by using real music composed specifically for the research and working with people who were currently experiencing some form of pain.

Over 250 adults from different countries (mainly in Europe and North America) took part in the study. They were each asked to listen to some music and rate their pain both before and after listening to the music track. Some participants were given a simple piece of music to listen to, and others a more complex piece. To make sure that none of them had heard the music before, the two tracks were commissioned specifically for this experiment from musician Anatole.

Besides varying the style of music between a simple or a more complex piece, there was another difference. Some participants were given the illusion that they had a choice in which music they heard. They were given short clips of music and asked to “choose the music you think would be the best thing to listen to when you have pain”. In reality, all clips came from the same piece of music – either the simple or complex tune – and there was no real choice happening.

But half of the participants did genuinely think that they made a choice in their music selection, and this made a difference. Regardless of whether they heard the simple or the more complex piece of music, the people who thought they chose their track said that they felt a greater sense of pain relief than those that did not get to choose at all.

Now of course not everyone has the same connection to music. For some people music is a very important part of their life – they listen actively throughout the day or maybe play some music themselves. In this study, the people who were usually more actively engaged with music got even bigger pain relief from their “choice” or music.

This is useful information for healthcare providers or patients that want to use music as part of add-on therapy or mild pain relief. It may not matter much what type of music people listen to. It could be fast or slow, loud or soft, any music style – as long as it’s your own choice.

So, what’s on your pain relief playlist?

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Life Sciences, Forbes – Healthcare

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