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The Sounds That Soothe

Child listening to audio therapy for pain relief

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How Audio Therapy Provides Post-Op Pain Relief

Pediatricians may have a sweet-sounding solution to a longstanding pain-relief problem. A new study from Northwestern Medicine found that children who listened to 30 minutes of their favorite music after surgery saw a significant reduction in pain compared to those without audio therapy.

Regulating post-operative pain in children has always been an obstacle for physicians, who must balance pain relief with side effects from most common analgesic medications. Led by Santhanam Suresh, MD, a professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics, scientists evaluated 60 pediatric patients at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago before and after audio therapy. The children reported their pain levels by identifying facial images including a grimace, tears, and a happy face and the groups that listened to music or stories of their choice reported feeling considerably less pain.

This breakthrough in pediatric post-op pain relief could offer all kinds of treatment improvements for children and adults alike.

Here are 5 reasons why audio therapy matters:

1. Music is a pleasurable distraction.

Distraction is a powerful, and often underrated, form of pain relief. Refocusing mental channels on something pleasurable, such as music or a comforting voice, can offer real, demonstrable pain relief. Audio therapy works on patients regardless of their initial pain score and the children who heard music experienced a significant reduction in pain.

2. Audio is easily personalized.

If your child is not a fan of Bach, they’re not likely to find much comfort or distraction in a post-op classical soundtrack. Everyone has the potential to respond to music, but personal taste will play a big role, according to Dr. Suresh.

When the Northwestern scientists let children choose what playlist they listened to, the patients could pick their favorite, and therefore most effective, option. The scientists also discovered that audiobooks had a similar effect. A soothing voice telling a familiar story could be just as relieving as a favorite tune.

3. Sounds have no side effects.

Pediatric pain relief is hard to manage because of the side effects children typically experience. Opioid analgesics can cause breathing problems in children, limiting their dosage and leaving children’s pain largely unregulated. The value of treatment for children with zero side effects cannot be understated.

4. Audio is inexpensive and accessible.

Because audio therapy can work for everyone, the study offers a lot of potential for pain relief outside of pediatrics as well. Patients who are recovering from ambulatory surgery at home or those who are not eligible for opioid prescriptions may find pain relief through audio therapy on their own.

5. Personal pain management boosts children’s confidence.

Northwestern scientists believe controllable pain relief for pediatric post-op patients can not only offer more effective therapy, but also improve the children’s self-esteem and surgical experience. Through pleasurable distraction, audio therapy has the potential to change a negative experience into a positive one, leaving the child feeling confident in their abilities to endure procedures and treatment.

Even after the study, Dr. Suresh saw patients bringing in iPods and taking the lead in audio therapy.

Dr. Suresh, along with Ravi Shah, MD, and Dawn Belvis, MD, treats patients with music therapy at the Lurie Children’s Pain Clinic at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. Lurie Children’s at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital also makes use of this breakthrough treatment.

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