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Music May Help Ease Pain for Anxious People

By engaging the mind, melodies compete with pain pathways, researchers say


THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) — Concentrating on music can provide enough distraction to ease the pain of people with significant anxiety, according to a new study.


Researchers from the University of Utah Pain Research Center studied the effectiveness of music as a pain reliever on 143 study participants. The volunteers were asked to follow a melody so they could identify the tones that stood out. While tackling the assignment, they received safe pain shocks with fingertip electrodes.


The study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Pain, found that pain was reduced as the demands of the music task rose. The researchers explained that the music competed with the participants’ pain pathways. By triggering emotional responses and engaging the participants’ minds, the music task helped to ease their pain.


Participants with the most anxiety about the pain became more engrossed in the music-listening task than those who were less anxious, according to a journal news release. The study authors suggested that experiencing little anxiety lowered the participants’ ability to focus on the task.


The researchers concluded that people with a lot of anxiety who can become preoccupied by activities, such as listening to music, can reduce discomfort by using this type of pain-relief strategy.


Doctors should take patients’ personality traits into consideration before suggesting pain therapies such as music, the authors said.


More information


The American Music Therapy Association provides more information on music therapy.


— Mary Elizabeth Dallas


SOURCE: American Pain Society, news release, Dec. 22, 2011


Last Updated: Dec. 29, 2011


Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


0 Star



Music May Help Ease Pain for Anxious People

Our Review Summary

Far more questions than answers are provided by this story – see some of our questions below.

In the end, it’s not clear why this recycled news release is even newsworthy.


Why This Matters

In the huge wave of medical science stories that flood the American public every day, editorial decision-makers need to evaluate what the impact is of overwhelming readers with an endless stream of stories about findings, about progress in research, about un-analyzed medical minutiae.

Journalists have an obligation to filter, to assess, to analyze, to evaluate – not merely to open the floodgates to unvetted news releases.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Cost is not particularly relevant in this case.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

No adequate explanation was given of the measurement of how “pain was reduced” and no quantification was given of the degree of reduction nor of how many of the 143 study participants experienced what degree of pain relief.


Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable;  we don’t know what harm could come from attempts at music therapy

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story was taken directly from a news release, spewing exactly what was said in the news release and no more.

There was no critical analysis.

There was no independent perspective evaluating the finding.

The story was unclear about whether pain or anxiety was the dominant issue.

The story also did not explain that shocking volunteers is not the same as studying patients with a clinical pain condition.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  Readers weren’t told anything about what kind of pain – from what conditions – the study participants were experiencing.

Point of clarification: It’s not clear that these participants were suffering from any kind of pain other than the shocks provided by the investigators. They’re described as “volunteers.”

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story lists a news release as its source and it’s clear this was its only source.

Feels like holiday-week filler material.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

No comparison was made with any other known method of pain relief.  Then again, as already stated, we don’t know anything about the pain these study participants had, so the entire story is void of vital information.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

We’re going to rule this unsatisfactory because we’re not told what kind of music was used (couldn’t that be an important variable?), nor for how long study participants were exposed, nor the setting (home?  research setting?) – nothing that could address the potential availability of this approach.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

Music therapy has been studied for decades across a range of conditions.  The story didn’t even acknowledge any past research in any other field.

Total Score: 0 of 7 Satisfactory

Comments (2)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Bonnie Nordby

December 31, 2011 at 11:22 am

Oh, thank you for your great analysis. I have felt bombarded and bewildered by the amount of “health news” that hits myself, my friends, and my family. I have been trying to help others by giving cautionary gentle reminders not to swollow everything that is offered. I myself had to learn that lesson too. What you are doing is so valuable and I will gladly help anyway I can. Bonnie



January 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm

It is kind of simplistic, however it does not go far enough, it limits the use of music to those with pain who are anxious, eliminating those with pain who use music for progressive muscle relaxation as part of a chronic pain coping protocol with out “anxiety”