Music therapy could help with physical pain relief

Music therapy could help with pain relief
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:14 PM EST
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The brain and the nervous system control how we experience pain. Usually a signal starts at the source. Let’s say a person pricks their finger. The signal travels from the source to the brain. But music appears to have the ability to disrupt the flow of signals, offering pain relief.

Alison Hughey is a music therapist and instructor at Converse University. But it’s not the career path she thought she would be on. She started as a music teacher until she had her own health struggle.

“I had a back injury, about two years after I had graduated Converse University,” Hughey said. “I lifted a piano keyboard out of my trunk and snagged my back.”

Doctors gave her opioids to deal with the back pain. Her doctor prescribed her darvocet, which is now off the market due to its high level of addiction and risk of sudden death.

“The prescription would say to take every four to six hours as needed,” Hughey said. “I was experiencing such intense pain that I didn’t want a flare-up, so I thought I should take this every four hours.

The pain was so intense she asked her doctors for a higher dose.

“I do think the medication impacted my mental health at the time,” Hughey said. “The addictive nature of opioids can lead you to experience more depressive symptoms or anhedonia, loss of interest or joy in things.”

But luckily for her she found another avenue to release her pain. A friend introduced her to music therapy.

Music provided me with a way to deal with my frustration,” Hughey said. “I was able to sing instead of screaming in pain.”

And science is backing up her experience. It’s called music-induced hypoalgesia. This is when pain stimuli, let’s say in the back, is being blocked from reaching the conscious mind. Canadian researchers found music may disrupt the flow of signals to the brain. In particular, when patients listened to their favorite music it helped reduce “pain unpleasantness.”

“Music lights up multiple parts of the brain,” Hughey said. “Our pain sensations travel up the nervous system and don’t have the same cognitive load that is dedicated to those sensations.”

Instead of feeling agony, Hughey’s mind focuses elsewhere.

“I was shifting from the pain in my back to feeling my hands tapping on my body,” Hughey said.

Alison eventually stopped taking pain meds and believes there could be a lot of potential for this method in other ways.

“I am hopeful addiction treatment centers will consider adding music therapy into their mix for both in-patient and out-patient settings,” Hughey said.

Hughey said she also did physical therapy in addition to music to alleviate the pain.