Among healthy adults, listening to an individual’s favorite music was found to decrease pain sensitivity and situational pain catastrophizing scores, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Pain.
Investigators from Harvard Medical School recruited healthy adults through Rally, a Partners Healthcare research website, between 2019 and 2020 for this study (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04087564). Participants (N=70) underwent 4 rounds of quantitative sensory testing that evaluated pressure pain threshold and tolerance, heat pain threshold, offset analgesia, temporal summation of pain, and conditioned pain modulation. The first round of testing was conducted without additional sound, and the next 3 rounds were conducted with random application of white noise, the study participant’s favorite music, or relaxing music from the Unwind application. Changes in pain outcomes were evaluated on the basis of music treatment.
The mean age of participants was 35.0 (standard deviation [SD], 18.3) years, 67.1% were women, 58.6% were White, and 42.9% had a Bachelor’s degree.
Based on the music condition during testing (white noise, preferred music, or relaxing music), significant differences were noted for scores for forearm pain pressure threshold (χ2, 33.21; P <.001) and tolerance (χ2, 34.40; P <.001), situational pain catastrophizing (χ2, 14.31; P<.001), trapezius pain pressure tolerance (χ2, 9.07; P =.011) and threshold (χ2, 6.01; P =.050), heat pain threshold (χ2, 7.32; P =.026), and offset analgesia (χ2, 10.02; P =.007) .
In post hoc analyses, significant pain outcomes were more favorable while listening to the participant’s favorite music compared with either white noise or relaxing music. The largest effect sizes were reported for forearm pain pressure tolerance (effect size, 0.46) and threshold (effect size, 0.43) in the favorite music trial compared with the relaxing music trial.
The percentage differences in pressure pain threshold and tolerance were both higher for the favorite music trials compared with either the white noise or the relaxing music trials.
This study may have been limited by not exploring potential mechanisms for the observed outcomes.
Study authors conclude that listening to an individual’s favorite music may decrease their pain sensitivity and catastrophizing compared with listening to white noise or relaxing music. The study authors suggest that “[e]mploying an individual’s favorite music during episodic or procedural pain might represent a cost effective adjunctive analgesic strategy.” However, additional research is needed to explore whether incorporating patient-selected music in chronic pain medicine may help manage pain outcomes.
Colebaugh CA, Wilson JM, Flowers M, et al. The impact of varied music applications on pain perception and situational pain catastrophizing. J Pain. Published online January 13, 2023. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2023.01.006