Parents and children have been fighting over what plays on the radio for as long as there have been radios. For children recovering from surgery, though, music might not be a trivial issue. According to a Northwestern Medicine study published in Pediatric Surgery, children who listen to audiobooks or to their favorite musical artists experience less pain after undergoing major surgery.
Can Music or Audiobooks Really Help?
Doctors have long sought safer options for managing postsurgical pain in children because opioids can cause breathing difficulties in kids. To evaluate alternative pain-management strategies, Santhanam Suresh, an anesthesiology and pediatrics professor at Northwestern University and chair of pediatric anesthesiology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, teamed up with his daughter, Sunitha Suresh. The younger Suresh is an engineer with training in music cognition.
The pair worked with about 60 children recovering from surgery who ranged in age from 9 to 14. One group of children listened to 30 minutes of silence with noise-canceling headphones. A second group could choose from audio stories, while the third group was allowed to listen to their favorite music. Children in the third group could choose from among playlists of popular music in various genres; well-known artists such as Rihanna and Taylor Swift figured prominently in the mix.
Researchers asked children to rate their pain prior to the listening session. They found that, no matter how severe a child’s pain was, every child who listened to music or stories experienced pain relief, while children who listened to silence did not. This strongly suggests that audio therapy can help alleviate pain.
How Music and Stories Help Kids Manage Pain
It might seem strange that simply listening to music or stories could help children manage pain, but Emily Kircher-Morris, MA, MEd, LPC, a GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert contributor on child and adolescent issues, says it makes sense.
“The use of audio therapy to help manage pain post-surgery is similar in many ways to other types of mindfulness and relaxation activities that have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety,” she said. “By allowing the listener to refocus his or her attention on an activity that is unrelated to the pain that is being experienced, the body is more able to relax and becomes less attentive to the experience of the pain. The fact that both audiobooks and music of the child’s choosing are effective is promising and gives patients the opportunity to feel empowered to control their own pain by choosing what methods work best for them.”
The study’s authors echo these sentiments. In the study, Santhanam Suresh argues that pain can be learned. When children are distracted from their pain, they experience it less. Suresh believes that music may aid in this distraction by blocking a prefrontal cortex pathway associated with memories of pain.
Rihanna’s music eases kids’ pain after surgery. (2015, January 8). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150108130125.htm
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