Music’s Impact on Medical Outcomes

Psychological studies have shown that music can subtly influence mood and behavior in several groups, from shoppers to people in waiting rooms.

Music is closely associated with emotional regulation, so the right musical choices can greatly improve mood, reduce stress, and increase one's sense of physical energy.

Medical practitioners who need to soothe nervous patients during office visits, surgeries, or medical emergencies can benefit from the healing power of music.  

How Music Impacts the Brain & Body

Music interacts with the brain in ways that other stimuli do not. Musical information can help people to manage stress.

Here's how it works:

  • Sound waves travel through the air into the ears, vibrating the eardrums and a series of small bones and muscles in the middle ear.
  • Once those vibrations have occurred, the brain takes that motion and interprets the signal into the cerebral cortex (part of the brain also tied to memory, thinking, and perceiving other stimuli).
  • The cerebral cortex interprets the signal, which then causes a ripple effect across other areas of the brain, leading to the stimulation of pleasure, emotional, and creative centers.
  • Releasing different neurotransmitters and hormones to adjust stress and arousal eventually triggers the hypothalamus, which is involved in heart rate, respiration, stomach, and skin nerves.

For some people, certain songs can trigger the sensation of butterflies in their stomach, very high physical energy, and goosebumps or shivers because of this interaction between the cerebral cortex and the hypothalamus.

The transmission of all this brain activity occurs in less than a second, starting with the first impact of sound vibrations on your eardrum. Changes to brain chemistry and body rhythm will, of course, impact how you feel, perceive the world, understand yourself, and how your body responds to additional stimuli.

Music has long been understood to help manage stress and make medical procedures easier. For example, music is used during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to cover up the sounds of the large machine and help distract patients from the tight space.

Now, medical research is beginning to understand the impact of music on specific body processes and how these changes can impact the healing process.

Conditions Influenced by Music & Sound

Music can promote healing through several pathways.

  • Hormones: A small study suggests that music can both sedate and heal through paradoxical stimulation of a growth hormone. The body is both stimulated and relaxed at the same time, which could improve healing.
  • Immune function: A meta-analysis of 400 cases found that music lowers stress and boosts the immune response. This can reduce the risk of infection in a hospital setting, improve outcomes for immune-compromised patients, and ease stress.
  • Pain management: A study of music therapy during a painful procedure produced startling results. Those who listened to music reported significant reductions in both pain and anxiety. Researchers aren't sure why this works, but music may give a patient a place to focus during a painful episode.

Music has been associated with improvement in many different conditions.

  • Cancer: Soothing music has also been found to relieve stress, reduce pain, and lower fatigue in cancer patients. In a survey of 52 trials, with 3,731 participants undergoing cancer treatment, music or sound interventions were found to have a moderate to strong effect in reducing overall anxiety; a large benefit in reducing pain, which can lower the need for pain medications; and a small to moderate effect in reducing fatigue. Listening to music could also improve patients' quality of life.
  • Heart disease: Researchers say music tends to increase heart rate and breathing. It can also lower pain and anxiety levels, improving your blood pressure.
  • Brain injuries: Therapists use music lessons (including playing the piano) to help people recover from traumatic brain injuries. Doing so can help people to repair severed connections and improve their feelings of well-being.
  • Strokes: Rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) is a form of sound and music treatment often applied to people who have had strokes. A study of stroke patients with lesions in specific regions of their brains found that those with lesions in the cerebellum, thalamus, pons, and medulla regions received the most benefit with improved gait rhythm and pacing. These regions are associated with impairments in physical timing, so working with music or rhythm during rehabilitation can improve overall recovery outcomes.
  • Parkinson's disease: Music is a mainstay of Parkinson's disease therapy programs. Some people use listening or auditory stimulation to help their patients swallow, breathe, or communicate. Some use singing, either alone or in groups, to help people feel connected. In general, music improves the quality of life for people with Parkinson's.
  • Premature infants: Tiny children resting in the NICU can feel isolated and alone, and parents aren't always sure how to comfort their premature babies. Music can help. Some programs encourage parents to sing to their children, while others use musical instruments that sound like a mother’s heartbeat. These methods help parents feel attached, and they can keep babies calm too.

Using Music to Heal

How should you incorporate music into the patient experience? In general, your musical selections should enhance the medical care you offer. The right playlist can make everything better, but it shouldn't take anything away.

Consider adding music to these situations.

Waiting Rooms

Patients’ anxiety levels can skyrocket as they wait to see their doctors. Their stress can manifest as unusual blood pressure readings, strange blood test results, and more. Keep them calm and entertained with soothing songs.

Loud Procedures

Many medical interventions, including MRIs, are loud and disturbing. If you're planning to do something to a patient that will be loud or otherwise uncomfortable, offer a musical distraction.

Therapeutic Interventions

Add music to brain retraining programs. Use the notes to help patients make connections with their brains, bodies, and emotions. Offer a playlist, encourage musicality, and perhaps add a little dancing.

Long-Lasting Appointments

Some types of medical issues, including chemotherapy and radiation appointments, take a long time. Keep your patients distracted and lower their stress with the right playlist.

Where to Get Music for Your Medical Setting

The right music choice for your medical facility will be both appropriate and legal. The National Federation of Independent Business reports that businesses can get sued for playing music without a license. In most cases, you can't turn on the radio without incurring a fine.

Work with a reputable company, such as Cloud Cover Music, to share tunes with your patients without breaking the law. You can even create different playlists for your different medical areas.

Your playlists might cover the following areas:

  • Waiting rooms
  • Baby areas
  • Chemotherapy rooms
  • Therapy rooms and gyms
  • Cardiovascular wings
  • Hallways

Each area has a different musical need. By working with a reputable company, you can meet all of those needs.

Music in Medical Offices FAQs

How does music help in the medical field?

Music can help to lower stress and anxiety, helping patients heal faster. The right song can also help reduce irritation while patients wait for their medical procedures to begin or end. Music can also help people (such as parents and children) communicate in new and profound ways.

How does music affect health?

Researchers have worked hard to answer this question. Their work suggests music can impact hormones, immune function, and pain control. Music has proven beneficial in helping people with cancer, heart disease, brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson's disease, and premature birth.


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