How Music Helps Patients Recover Quickly from Surgery

Samantha Johnson

by Samantha Johnson | August 7, 2012 @ 11:00AM

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From Taylor Swift to 2Pac, we've already heard about what plastic surgeons have loaded up on their playlist, but what are the patients listening to during surgery?

That's right – listening to music while under the knife is becoming more and more common.  

Studies have shown that music slows down the heart rate and keeps patients calm as they prepare - or recover - from surgery. As a result, patients have experienced less use of anesthesia, as well as less nausea, brain fog and/or dizziness. 

But it's not just any music that has this effect.  According to Dr. Alice Cash, a licensed clinical social worker and internationally known expert on the healing effects of music, a specific type of calming music should be used.  Her studies have led her to develop headphones made especially for surgery that come pre-loaded with music that meets the criteria.  All the music uses only one to two instruments, provides a soft, pleasing dynamic level, and has an overall slow tempo.  

If a patient undergoes surgery like a body lift or breast augmentation which requires general anesthetic, they should listen to music that has the tempo of a healthy resting heart rate.  If the patient is just being numbed with local anesthetic for a less-invasive surgery like mole removal or cataract removal, a slow, relaxing tempo would provide a sufficient calming effect. Dr. Cash is formulating a new surgery playlist for her headphones that will include Jazz and New Age music that will be perfectly suited for both types of anesthetic. 

Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., conducted a study where 67 patients were given a similar type of light, classical music to listen to post-surgery for just under five hours, and the study showed that these patients were able to leave the hospital five hours earlier than those who did not listen to music. 

Other studies have revealed that listening to relaxing music significantly enhances the outcome of surgical procedures, and, when practiced before surgery, music therapy reduces blood loss, decreases the awareness of pain, and the immune system overall responds better to the surgery.

To get the full calming effect of the music, Dr. Cash suggests you “practice” listening to your playlist, not busying your mind or body with any other activity. This trains your brain to relax more quickly once the music starts.  It should not be a problem to wear the headphones during surgery, but ask your doctor to be sure.  If not, request that music be played in the operating room.  The calming effects and decreased recovery time will be well worth it.

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