Though it may seem like new age mumbo jumbo at first glance, music reduces pain in a number of different ways.  This isn’t to say that turning on your favorite tunes will eliminate all sensations of hurting. That said, when used in specific ways and as a part of an overall strategy, it can make a meaningful difference.

Perception and How Music Reduces Pain

The results of a new study show that the perception of having choice in music reduces pain.  When people were given the impression that they had control over what they were hearing, they experienced greater relief than when they didn’t have the feeling they were the ones choosing their tunes.

The research was published in the PLOS ONE journal in August 2022.  In it, the researchers from Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom, showed that there is a new angle to the way music reduces pain.  What they found was that study participants who felt as though they were the ones choosing what they were listening to experienced greater relief than the ones who were not given the impression that they were controlling the songs they heard. 

Seeing it From a Different Side

There is a growing body of evidence that music reduces pain, particularly when it comes to chronic discomfort – that is, when it lasts longer than 12 weeks.  That said, the specifics of how this works have yet to be determined. This is particularly true of acute symptoms – that is, when it lasts for less than 12 weeks. 

Studies have examined various features to the songs themselves, such as tempo or energy, but they don’t appear to play much of a role in the overall relief provided. Instead, what the researchers in this study found was that having the feeling of being able to make decisions about what is heard could be key to how music reduces pain.

Before this research, there was only clinical study, not real-world experiences of pre-existing acute pain.  Therefore, while it was fascinating and indeed helpful, it meant that further research will be required before any solid conclusions can be made for using music to reduce pain in a specific treatment or therapy.

Testing How Music Reduces Pain Through Control

To better the existing understanding of how music reduces pain, the researchers from this study aimed to examine real-world, pre-existing pain.  They worked with 286 adults who were experiencing acute pain in real-world circumstances.  They were asked to rate their discomfort level ahead of listening to a music track. 

The track was composed specifically to contain two different versions of varying complexity.  Participants were randomly assigned to listen to the high-complexity version or the low-complexity version.  Some were randomly selected to be given the impression that they could select the qualities of the song they were hearing, though regardless of their choice, they heard the same track as the others.

What the researchers found was that when participants felt as though they were given control over the features of the sounds they were experiencing, they reported greater relief to the intensity of their discomfort than the participants who weren’t given the impression of control over what they listened to. This indicated that the perception of control plays a notable role in how music reduces pain and improves relief.