Although there is ample research highlighting the soothing effects of music on a person's emotional health, there are few studies that focus on the effects of music on physical pain. New findings published by a research team from the University of Alberta show that listening to music can effectively reduce a child's perception of pain.

"There is growing scientific evidence showing that the brain responds to music and different types of music in very specific ways," said lead researcher Dr. Lisa Hartling from the University's Department of Medicine and Dentistry.

"So additional research into how and why music may be a better distraction from pain could help advance this field."

Hartling along with colleagues from the Department of Pediatrics analyzed clinical trials with 42 children between the ages of three and 11. The children were patients in the pediatric emergency department of Alberta's Stollery Children's Hospital and required intravenous therapy (IV), which has been known to cause pain or discomfort in adolescents.

The children participating in the study were grouped into two categories: those who listened to music while receiving the IV and those who did not listen to music. Researchers marked the amount of stress each child expressed, their perceived level of pain, and their heart rate. The satisfaction of parents and physicians was also considered.

The results of their analysis showed that children who listened to music had fewer complaints about pain while being administered an IV and were considered to be under less stress. What's more, 76 percent of the children's health care providers reported that administering the IV was an easy task when the children were listening to music, while only 38 percent of physicians who administered IVs to children who weren't listening to music reported completing the procedure with ease.

"We did find a difference in the children's reported pain - the children in the music group had less pain immediately after the procedure," said Hartling.

"The finding is clinically important and it's a simple intervention that can make a big difference. Playing music for kids during painful medical procedures would be an inexpensive and easy-to-use intervention in clinical settings."

A similar study published in May evaluated if a patient-directed music (PDM) therapy could reduce anxiety and sedative exposure in ICU patients on mechanical ventilation.

The clinical trial included 373 patients from 12 ICUs at five hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area; all received acute mechanical ventilator support for respiratory failure between September 2006 and March 2011. Of the patients included in the study, the average age was 59 years. Patients were divided into three groups. In one group, 126 patients initiated PDM (with preferred selections tailored by a music therapist) whenever they desired. In a second group, 122 patients initiated the use of noise-canceling headphones (NCH) whenever they desired. In the final group, 125 patients received the usual care.

Results of the study showed that patients in the PDM group had anxiety scores that were 19.5 points lower than those of patients in the usual care group. On the fifth day (the average time patients were enrolled), a usual care patient received five doses of sedative medication while an equivalent PDM patient received only three doses — a relative reduction of 38 percent. By the end of the fifth day, PDM patients had a relative reduction of 36 percent in their sedation intensity scores and 36.5 percent in their anxiety scores.