Is it possible that tuning into your favorite music can help alleviate your migraine or low back pain? Well, maybe not cure your pain, but it can potentially help ease it. Music therapy, using music to focus on physical, psychological and cognitive issues plays a role in modern medicine for children and adults. The following excerpt from the University of California Berkeley’s Wellness Letter explains the influence music can have on our minds and bodies:

The idea that music has healing powers occurs in almost every culture and goes back to ancient times. Apollo was the god of both music and healing. Hippocrates is said to have played music to help treat his patients. In the Old Testament, King Saul’s fits of depression were alleviated by the music of young David.

Much research has confirmed that music has psychological and physiological effects. While scientists can now see via medical imaging some of the changes in the brains of people listening to Beethoven or Elvis, music is a very complex stimulus, and the ways it works on us remain largely elusive.

Some colleges and universities offer degrees in music therapy, several organizations provide certification in the field, and many hospitals offer the therapy to patients.

Music therapy has been used as an adjunct treatment for everything from strokes and various types of chronic pain to dementia and other neurological disorders. Some of the best evidence concerns the use calming music for anxiety disorders and depression, as was discussed in a 2011 review paper in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Two years earlier, a Cochrane analysis of 23 clinical trials concluded that music can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, anxiety and pain in people with heart disease.

Of course, taste in music varies, and what enthralls one person may be just noise to another. Some research suggests that classical music is best for stress reduction, heart rate and blood pressure, though this may, in part, relate to the age and tastes of the researchers who did the studies. If you don’t like Bach or Mozart, it won’t help you much as you go into the operating room (though it may help the surgeon). So one prerequisite, of course, is to have people choose music they like. Some individuals don’t care for any music, and for them silence may be the best treatment.

You don’t need to have a reason to listen to or make music other than the pleasure or catharsis it gives you. But if it also helps you deal with pain and anxiety, lifts you out of depression for a while, helps you with some other physical or psychological problem or motivates you to exercise, more power to it. Unlike new drugs or medical procedures, music needs no government approval or clinical trials – it’s usually free or inexpensive, and can’t hurt even if it fails to help…….     4/15/14

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