Soothing Sounds: How Music and Stories Can Ease Kids’ Pain After Surgery

When children undergo surgery, one of the most challenging aspects of their recovery is managing their postoperative pain. Prescribed opioids often lead to hazardous breathing difficulties, while many other painkillers are accompanied by a multitude of undesirable side effects. However, a groundbreaking study from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has unveiled a drug-free, cost-effective method to alleviate this debilitating pain – audio therapy.

A Novel Approach to Postoperative Pain Management

The study found that by allowing children to listen to their favorite music or stories after surgery, their pain levels were significantly reduced. Researcher and anesthesiologist Santhanam Suresh believes audio therapy is an exciting opportunity that should be explored by hospitals and surgical centers. “This is inexpensive and doesn’t have any side effects,” says Suresh.

This research is the first randomized study exploring and validating the benefits of patient-chosen audio therapy as a promising method for managing pain in children after surgery. Previous studies have only examined the effects of music on pain during brief medical procedures.

Suresh suggests that audio therapy may disrupt a secondary pathway within the brain’s prefrontal cortex responsible for imprinting painful memories. “There is a certain amount of learning that goes on with pain,” he explains. “The idea is, if you don’t think about it, maybe you won’t experience it as much. We are trying to cheat the brain a little bit. We are trying to refocus mental channels onto something else.”

The Importance of Patient Choice

One crucial element of successful audio therapy is allowing the children to select their preferred music or stories. According to Suresh, “Everyone relates to music, but people have different preferences.”

Researcher Sunitha Suresh, who also participated in the study, highlights another rewarding aspect they discovered: “One of the most rewarding aspects of the study was the ability for patients to continue their own audio therapy. After the study, several patients ended up bringing in their iPods and listening to their own music. They hadn’t thought of it before.”

The Power of Music Therapy

The power of music therapy extends beyond children recovering from surgery. Music has been shown to have numerous health benefits for patients of all ages, such as:

  • Reducing anxiety and depression: A study published in npj Schizophrenia revealed that listening to calming music reduced anxiety levels in patients with schizophrenia-1-.
  • Lowering blood pressure and heart rate: Music therapy has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate in patients who suffer from hypertension and high heart rates due to stress-2-.
  • Improving cognitive function: Research has found that patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can benefit significantly from listening to familiar music, with improvements in memory, communication, and overall quality of life-3-.

In summary, audio therapy can serve as a simple, accessible, and effective method for managing postoperative pain in children while avoiding the adverse side effects that come with drug-based treatments. By engaging patients in choosing their preferred audio content, hospitals and medical professionals have a unique opportunity to implement a cost-effective and safe solution that enhances recovery and overall well-being.