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How to stay calm when you are having surgery; with music

Updated on August 13, 2015

Music during surgery reduces pain and anxiety for many patients according to a recent study conducted at Queen Mary University in London. The team reviewed 70 trials, involving about 7,000 patients around the time of surgery, comparing a wide variety of mostly "soothing" music with undisturbed bed rest, headphones with no music, white noise and routine care.

Playing music to patients while they are in surgery, reduces their anxiety and may even aid healing, surgeons say

Head researcher Dr Catherine Meads found that listenin to the music of Pink Floyd helped her relax after her recent hip operation
Head researcher Dr Catherine Meads found that listenin to the music of Pink Floyd helped her relax after her recent hip operation | Source

According to a report by Jane Dreaper, the study conducted by head researcher Catherine Meads MD revealed that the patients who had listened to music had been less anxious after their surgery and had needed less pain relief.

The Department of Health are encouraging doctors to take these findings seriously, and whilst music is not currently used during surgery everywhere, hopefully it will be in the future. Ask your consultant if it is an option in your area.

The study continues

The study at the Royal London Hospital will continue in the Autumn involving around 40 women having either a Caesarean section or a hysteroscopy. They will be given the chance to have their playlist connected to a pillow with in-built loudspeakers.


If this actually helps anxiety and recovery, and lowers pain, then why not try it?

Having had major spinal surgery three times and a number of other minor procedures, I can relate to the anxiety involved before the operation, and during the early stages of recovery. Of course when you are under general anaesthetic, you are not aware of anything, but who knows what distress we are in on every level. If listening to music actually helps anxiety and recovery, and lowers pain, then why shouldn't it be an option? It is a lot cheaper and healthier than drugs!

MRI Table and imaging machine
MRI Table and imaging machine | Source

Calm yourself with music when having an MRI scan

Over the years I have had to endure in the region of 8 MRI scans on my spine which involved being strapped to a table and loaded into a small tunnel to undergo the scan. It is a very claustrophic experience to say the least and caused me considerable distress each time.

However, in most cases I was told on the patient information leaflet to bring a CD if I wished so that I could listen to my chosen music during the scan. I can say that this helped. After the initial few minutes of being manoeuvred into place and the scan starting up, that once the music started, it did have a calming effect on me. My choice by the way was usually Eva Cassidy, or Norah Jones, both very soothing voices and music. So I highly recommend that if you are nervous about having an MRI scan or similar, make the most of the opportunity to listen to your chosen music.

Music has a unique link to our emotions

The soothing benefits of music

We know that music has a soothing power as it has a unique link to our emotions, so it can be an extremely effective stress management tool in any situation, not just during or after an operation.

Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.

Another fascinating study

conducted by Pornpattana Vichitvejpaisal, MD, researcher, Chiang Mai University looked a bit deeper into the effects of specific sounds in his study involving binaural beat audio therapy where the patient listens to a different sustained tone in each ear but simultaneously. The findings of this study were fascinating and in summary there were positives in aspects of patients blood pressure, heart rate and self-reported anxiety. Blood pressure and heart rate were reduced.

Music has been used for healing for hundreds of years so why shouldn’t these studies be taken seriously. Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. The American Music Therapy Association – AMTA have been running courses on music therapy for years and research has proven that music therapy can:

  • Promote Wellness
  • Manage Stress
  • Alleviate Pain
  • Express Feelings
  • Enhance Memory
  • Improve Communication
  • Promote Physical Rehabilitation

Are you preparing to have surgery?

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Other ways to deal with anxiety about surgery, and preparing yourself for your operation.


Practice relaxation and meditation techniques.

Meditation and general relaxation techniques can benefit anyone in any stressful situation, but looking after yourself in this respect before surgery is a valuable tool. Perhaps you already practice such techniques, but if not follow some simple guides to start with. They can be practiced with appropriate music to help if you wish. Here are some simple relaxation exercises: 10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot

Be knowledgeable about your surgery, the type of operation, and aware of all the facts regarding your recovery. Read all the information that your healthcare team provides you with. Try not to obsess over a lot of forums on the internet because this can more often lead to panic, not to a positive state of awareness. Look for professional sources referring to specific recovery advice for your particular surgery.

Make sure that you are well rested and well nourished. Try to follow a healthy diet and get regular sleep and rest in the run up to the operation. Take vitamins and supplements to balance out your body's requirements and give your body all the essential nutrients that it needs to heal.

Prepare yourself with regards to all practical requirements, especially if your surgery means that you will have a period of incapacity during the early recovery stages. You may need to rethink the layout of your house, perhaps have a bed downstairs if the stairs are likely to be difficult. If you are not able to drive for some time after your operation, then make sure that you arrange lifts with somebody, a partner, carer, relative or friend.

Ensure that any essential jobs at home are completed before the day you go into hospital, so that you are not trying to do things when you get back home. Make a schedule a month before of the things you need to achieve before your operation. It is very important that you rest when you get home from surgery to give you the best chance of recovery.

and finally ... choose your music, and a good book! Both can be relaxing options when you are in a position where you are forced to rest and recover. Time passes quicker when you are listening to music, and a good book is also a nice distraction.

Learn how to put music on your ipod


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