Relaxation and music: a short-term remedy for postoperative pain?

According to a recent article in Nursing Research (Good et al. 2010), music may prove useful for managing post-operative pain. A study involved 517 participants who were scheduled for major abdominal surgery at a clinic in the Midwest and was designed to test and compare two strategies for pain self-management.

One group of participants were given audiotaped patient training (PT), an intervention that teaches patients how to manage their own pain with opioid painkillers, and education about pain more generally. Another group received audiotapes called relaxation and music (RM), which include instructions on relaxation techniques and a choice of soothing background music. Finally, the third experimental group received both PT and RM, and the control group was told that they were participating in an experimental group and given a type of splint to wear so as not to demoralize them.

Participants received their interventions before surgery, upon transfer to their postsurgical nursing unit, and at on each of the two following days. Both the control and experimental groups were provided standard postoperative care following their surgeries. Experimental participants received encouragement and instruction on the use of the tapes, while the control group just received encouragement and attention. Participants measured their experiences of pain a validated scale four times a day for the following two days.

How helpful was the relaxation and music? The researchers found that the RM tapes had an immediate effect; throughout the first day and in the morning of the second day, those who listened to them reported significantly less pain right after the tapes than those who hadn’t (the PT-only and control groups). The researchers were surprised that PT had no effect at any of those times, but suggest that the effect of the surgery and painkillers might have made learning pain-management techniques difficult. Finally, there were no non-immediate effects of the RM tapes, as those in the RM groups did not have any significantly lower levels of pain when they were tested after hours had passed since the last tape intervention.

According to the authors, this suggests that RM was effective as self-management for pain, as participants were able relax and distract themselves from the pain, which prior research suggests is a significant part in self-management. They also note that the music might have had a sedative effect, also effective for short-term pain management. Since most of the participants reported liking the music, the authors also hypothesize that this may have improved their mood, which is particularly helpful with the emotional aspects of pain.


Marion Good, Jeffrey M. Albert, Gene Cranston Anderson, Stephen Wotman, Xiaomei Cong, Deforia Lane, and Sukhee Ahn (2010). “Supplementing Relaxation and Music for Pain After Surgery,” Nursing Research 59(4) pp. 259-269


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