Pain & Music

“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” 

George Eliot 

The connection and consolation music brings are profound. A universal and unifying art, music binds us together in a shared love and appreciation. 

Music can also be a staunch ally in managing chronic pain. Its power manifests in two key ways: 

  • Controlling pain levels 
  • Distraction from pain 

Controlling Pain  

Listening to music can help regulate the intensity of pain, smoothing its sharp edges. A recent study showed that listening to music daily has “beneficial effects on control over pain”. The context matters, for "it seems to be relevant why one listens to music" and listening “for the reason of ‘activation’ or ‘relaxation’ predicted successful pain coping.”  

In studying a number of people living with fibromyalgia, researchers found that "perceived control over pain was significantly increased after having listened to music.” Repetition is crucial. Those who listened most often to music experienced the strongest positive effects, with “an increase in the number of music episodes being associated with an increase in the pain-reducing effect of music listening.” 

Music seems to dampen down connectivity in specific regions of the brain associated with pain. One study revealed “a significant correlation between changes in self-reported pain and changes in connectivity after listening to music.” Further research has shown that listening to music “may disrupt the brain's "pain - stress - pain" feedback loop and in doing so alter an individual's sensitivity to pain”. 

Distraction from Pain 

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” 

Bob Marley 

Music can also provide a powerful diversion from pain, a sensual respite from chronic discomfort. When we lose ourselves in it, music hypnotises us, transforming a raging river of pain into smaller streams. 

There is an empowering sense of taking charge of our pain levels. Music can be “controlled by the listener and can capture attention strongly, shifting it away from unpleasant sensations.” 

Healthy distractions are a crucial coping strategy for managing pain, and music is one of the most potent and flexible forms. 

Music Therapy for Pain 

“My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”  

Martin Luther 

Music can also be used therapeutically for managing pain, and has been proven to:  

  • Ease anxiety and discomfort during procedures 
  • Help with physical therapy and rehabilitation 

A recent study on one-to-one music therapy for chronic pain found that it “helped chronic pain sufferers relax" and assisted them in sharing "the emotional story of their journey through chronic pain during the sessions.” 

The healing power of music was explored in depth by Oliver Sacks, the great neurologist and author. 

To learn more about music therapy for pain, watch this excellent video from Chronic Pain Ireland


"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." 

Aldous Huxley 

Music is an essential ally in managing chronic pain. Listening to music can provide a healthy diversion from acute pain, help control pain levels, and even assist in rehabilitation. 

Music therapy for pain may be an effective holistic technique for helping with relaxation and mitigating the emotional cost of living with chronic pain. 

Turn up the music, and turn down the pain.



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