Can Music Therapy Relieve Spine Pain?


Music is usually thought of as recreation or entertainment. Music therapy is not usually associated with healing or the reduction of pain. Music however has a relationship with overall wellbeing and is used to benefit individuals with a variety of health conditions. Music can empower patients to unlock physical and emotional tension, encouraging body movement, and decreasing pain expression in the nervous system. Physical endurance can be enhanced when movement is rhythmically coordinated with a musical stimulus.1

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Doctors recently reported the results of a study evaluating 60 spinal surgery fusion patients who received subsequent music therapy and usual care or usual care alone.2 The music therapy group of 30 patients underwent music sessions of 30 minutes in duration during an eight hour period within 72 hours of surgery. Music therapy included use of patient-preferred live music that included singing, rhythmic drumming or breathwork. Music was matched between the patient’s respiratory cycles and the tension-resolution cycles of the music. Similar matching was achieved with those study patients who preferred prerecorded songs. The primary outcome measure was improvement on the visual analogue scale (VAS), a well document tool for measuring pain.

The group that received music therapy had a decreased level of pain by more than 1 point on a 10 point scale compared to the “usual care” group which had a slightly increased level of pain. There were no differences found in secondary outcome measures of anxiety, depression, or fear of movement.

Although the decrease of one point in the VAS is not considered clinically significant the trend favored music therapy and the sample size was very small. Moreover, it was accomplished with non-pharmacologic means and with minimal risk of adverse effects. It is possible that music therapy improved motion, endurance, and the ability to relax after a major surgical event and the role of music therapy warrants further evaluation.

  1. Molinari M et al. Neurobiology of rhythmic motor entertainment. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2003;999:313-321
  2. Mondanaro JF et al. Music therapy increases comfort and reduces pain in patients recovering from spin surgery. Am J Orthop 2017;46:E13-E

David Borenstein, M.D.

Executive editor TheSpineCommunity


Understanding Back Pain