If listening to your favorite tunes has always been one of your go-to pick-me-ups when you're not feeling well, you're onto something.
It's understood that music can have a profound effect on our emotions ("Tears in Heaven," anyone?), but numerous studies over the years have shown that music also has an effect on our bodies and can reduce various types of aches and pains.
In an August 2015 review published in The Lancet, researchers found that music, regardless of preference or timing of delivery, can help patients reduce pain and anxiety after recovering from surgical procedures. Even cooler, music was found effective even when patients were under general anesthetic.
And in a separate but similar study that came out in February 2015, children who chose their own music or audiobook experienced less pain after having major surgery, as reported by experts from the Children's Hospital of Chicago.
Finally, in November 2013, a group of European researchers concluded that music therapy has the ability to reduce chronic pain, specifically in those suffering from fibromyalgia. In fact, music also increased the patients' mobility, which reduces their risk of becoming disabled.
The Healing Sounds of Music
While music is a form of therapy, it's not an exact science, says Brian Abrams, PhD, MT-BC, LPC, LCAT, analytical music therapist and associate professor of music at Montclair State University.
"I don't see it as a natural science with generalizable laws," he says. "It's much more of a dialogue."
Dr. Abrams says that while there is literature on the connection between music and neurophysiology, "the jury's still out on exactly how music interacts with the brain. I don't see it as a physical intervention, like medication," he says. "It's more of a human activity. I find it hard to reduce music to sound stimuli — it's like saying a book is just pages and ink."
Music therapy can also definitely help with those suffering from anxiety, he adds. "The whole spectrum of mental health is addressed through music therapy," Abrams explans. "And not through a diagnosed pathology, but if a person is dealing with everyday anxiety or mood issues."
However, Abrams emphasizes that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for music therapy. "There is no such thing as 'the better music,'" he says. "In order to help a person find the music that will be helpful is to know who they are — I need to actually meet them, to understand their life story, their context, their culture, whereas in physical medicine, we all have biological things in common, so you can practice medicine without necessarily knowing a person's life story."
So how should we go about easing our own ailments with music? "People would be best served using what they know they're comfortable with, try a few things through trial and error and see what feels right," he suggests. "And if possible, try to connect with a professional music therapist who can assess and address one's unique situation with respect to their pain."
But it doesn't take extensive research to see – or hear, rather – that music is good for the body and soul. "I think people innately and intuitively know this," Abrams says. "It's not necessarily a matter of music therapy to do self-help through the arts. I think that's just a very human thing to do."