Recently, the Foo Fighters managed to marry music and pain in their comedic horror film Workshop 666. In the film, the band move into a haunted house in hopes that it might inspire them to write and record their next album. Of course, supernatural violence occurs when the group encounters the angry ghosts of past groups. It’s the story of how music can span decades, taking pain with it.
Luckily for those of us in the real world, music often has the opposite effect. Yes, music can be emotionally painful, especially if we associate it with a difficult time in our lives, but there is evidence that it can have a positive mental impact, including relieving physical pain.
As early as the 1960s, dentists documented an apparent analgesic effect, i.e. pain relief, in patients exposed to noise during and after medical procedures, but the underlying mechanisms were not known. clear. It makes some sense even without a scientific explanation. Sounds, especially those from entertaining music, serve to distract people from everything going on around them and that alone might be enough to relieve pain. Turns out, that might just be part of the story.
New research by scientists from the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine and the University of Science and Technology of China appears to confirm that noise has a physical effect on pain signals in the brain that goes beyond beyond mere distraction. Their findings were published in the journal Science.
Using mice as an experimental model, the scientists generated pain by injecting Freund’s complete adjuvant – a suspension of heat-killed mycobacterium in paraffin oil – which causes inflammation. They then exposed the mice to noise and measured their response to pain. They discovered that parts of the brain involved in auditory processing are functionally connected to regions that process pain. As a result, exposure to sounds could disrupt pain signal processing, thereby acting as an analgesic.
They targeted sounds with a low signal-to-noise ratio of around 5 decibels and found that to be the most effective. Also, it is this level of sound that is apparently important to achieve the effect, not the type of sound used.
In experiments, pain relief is achieved in relatively equal amounts whether the mouse or patient is exposed to white noise, nature sounds, or music of any genre. Of course, listening to entertaining music or pleasant sounds is a better way to take your medicine. It’s the auditory equivalent of a spoonful of sugar.
Interestingly, the scientists also found that the analgesic effect persisted for more than two days after the sound-based intervention was stopped. This adds further evidence to the hypothesis that it is not solely the result of anxiety or stress reduction or pain distraction. Yet what precisely happens inside the brain and body is not fully understood and further research is needed. This is especially true because the neural circuits involved in both pain and auditory processing are more complex in humans than in mice and may not work in exactly the same way.
The next time you sit down at the tattoo table or have a medical procedure, take some time to plan your favorite playlist. It might make the experience much easier to bear, but it might also make you associate your favorite tunes with a root canal. You have been warned.
It’s a fan thing
Join SYFY Insider to access exclusive videos and interviews, breaking news, sweepstakes and more!