We don’t need another study to show us that surgery often leads to anxiety and pain—both of which, unfortunately, can negatively affect the outcome of the operation and slow down recovery.

What we do need is a way to reduce surgery-related anxiety and pain so that we can heal more fully and quickly.

And we want that therapy to be risk-free…drug-free…and economical, too.

A tall order?

No, as it turns out. The secret lies in something we’re exposed to every day—music.

If this is ringing bells for you, you may recall a recent Daily Health News article that explained how music combined with a special two-tone sound (called binaural beat audio therapy) kept patients calm during surgery. That was intriguing stuff!

Still, plain music does have advantages over binaural beats (which I’ll explain in a moment)…and according to the newest research, we should listen to music not only during surgery but before and after as well. It’s vital that the music be the right type, too.

So lend an ear to this update on the latest findings.


A recent review of published studies looked at how music affects surgical patients during three different timeframes…

Before: Listening to music prior to surgery was shown to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. In one study, music listeners decreased their anxiety more than those who took midazolam, a powerful sedative. That’s important—because research suggests that reducing anxiety before an operation leads to decreased pain, less chance of vomiting, reduced complications and faster recovery after surgery.

During: Some studies showed that, when patients who were kept awake for surgery (while using local anesthesia) listened to music, they reported lower anxiety during their operations and needed less sedative medication in order to relax than those who did not listen to music. (Interestingly, in our earlier article on binaural beats mentioned above, patients who listened to plain music during surgery showed better reductions in blood pressure than those who listened to music mixed with binaural beats.) And what about patients who were unconscious during surgery? Compared with those who were not exposed to music in the operating room, patients for whom music was played during surgery needed fewer sedatives and painkillers after their procedures…were able to be mobile sooner…and felt less fatigued at the time of discharge.

After: Listening to music after surgery reduced anxiety as well as the need for painkillers. This isn’t to say that postoperative patients could throw away their pain drugs completely—but music listeners did use fewer opioids (painkillers that can have strong side effects) than patients who did not listen to music after surgery.


How does music work its magic for surgery patients? Researchers hypothesize that music activates brain circuitry related to pleasant feelings, promoting an endorphin-like response…induces relaxation by changing neural pathways in the brain…and/or serves as a distraction from physical pain and negative emotions.

If you’re facing surgery: No matter what type of major or minor operation you’re anticipating, talk to your doctor about having music in the air before, during and after your procedure. Generally what works best is music that has a smooth melody…slow tempo (60 to 80 beats per minute)…low volume (no more than 60 decibels) with minimal dynamic changes…stable rhythm…limited percussion…and no lyrics (because lyrics can be too stimulating).

For optimal effects, a trained medical music therapist should select the music based on the above criteria, so inquire whether such a professional is on staff at the facility where you’ll be having your procedure. Or visit the Web site of the American Music Therapy Association to search for a qualified music therapist in your area. Rest assured that letting a pro pick the music doesn’t mean you’ll have to listen to Bach if what you love is rock—typically the music therapist offers a choice of different playlists from various genres, so you can opt for tunes that match your taste.