DAVID GREENE, HOST:
There is a free and powerful treatment hospitals could probably be using more often to treat patients who have surgery. It's music. Scores of studies have looked at the power of music to ease this kind of pain. NPR's Richard Harris reports on new research that pulls many of these findings together.
RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: When researchers in London started combing through the medical literature for studies about music's healing powers, they found hundreds of small studies suggesting some benefit. The idea goes back to the days of Florence Nightingale. And music was used to sooth surgical pain as early as 1914. Dr. Catherine Meads at Brunel University focused her attention on 73 rigorous, randomized clinical trials about the role of music among surgery patients.
CATHERINE MEADS: As the studies themselves were small, they didn't really find all that much. But once we put them all together, we had much more power to find whether music worked or not.
HARRIS: She and her colleagues now report in The Lancet that, yes indeed, surgery patients who listen to music, either before, during or after surgery, were better off.
MEADS: Reduced pain and less anxiety and better patient satisfaction.
HARRIS: Remarkably, patients listening to music used significantly less pain medication. Meads says music on average helped them to drop two notches on the 0-to-10 pain scale. That's often what you'd get with a dose of medicine. Music in place of heavy-duty pharmaceuticals is a good trade-off. And we're not just talking Mozart or Yanni. Music in many of these studies was whatever patients chose for themselves.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MEADS: I didn't think it mattered at all which sort of music it was. It could be anything from Spanish guitar to Chinese classical music.
HARRIS: Was there any downside?
MEADS: Doesn't seem to have any sort of side effects or anything like that.
HARRIS: Well, maybe one. A few other studies have noted that operating rooms are very noisy places, and added music can make it harder for the surgical staff to hear what's going on. Doctors sometimes have to repeat their commands, creating opportunities for misunderstanding.
MEADS: If surgeons are listening to music, it can be a bit of a distraction. So it may be it's not such a wise idea to have it during the operation itself.
HARRIS: That was not, however, something Meads analyzed in her study of music and medicine. Richard Harris, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.