Music as Medicine After Spine Surgery

Want a smooth spine surgery recovery? One study says it starts in your ears.

Written by Kelly Rehan
Reviewed by Donald S. Corenman, MD, DC

Recovering from spine surgery can be a long, hard experience, but researchers recently found that a lesser-known therapy may help ease the pain. Music therapy, when combined with standard medical care, reduced pain perception in patients recovering from spinal fusion, according to a study published in January 2017.
“The study delivers a solid finding that music therapy integrated into medical care of patients recovering from spinal surgery can positively impact pain reporting and increase comfort during the recovery process,” says John Mondanaro, lead author and Clinical Director of The Louis Armstrong Music Therapy Department.

“Music therapy involving the use of live music by a therapist within a therapeutic relationship contributes to patient care outcomes because it addresses the whole person: body, mind, spirit,” Mondanaro says.

Results Show Benefits of Coupling Standard Treatment with Music Therapy
The research was conducted at the Spine Institute of New York within the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, with music therapy coordinated through the hospital’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine.

Sixty patients (35 female and 25 male) ranging in age from 40 to 55 who had an anterior, posterior, or anterior-posterior spinal fusion participated in the study. The patients were evenly split between two study groups. The experimental group received music therapy plus standard medical care, while the control group only had standard medical care.

Patients in the experimental group received one 30-minute music therapy session during an 8-hour period within 72 hours after their procedure.

The music options included patient-preferred live music, singing, and rhythmic drumming that encouraged relaxation. The music therapy sessions focused on personal treatment, where patients were encouraged to express their emotions.

Researchers primarily used a pain scale before and after the interventions to measure results. They found that pain levels raised slightly in the control group, but the experimental group’s pain scores dropped by more than 1 point.

Music an Individual Element to Spine Surgery Recovery
While medications are often used as a first-line treatment for post-spine surgery pain, music may be worth considering as more people look for non-drug therapies for relief.

“Music is an excellent distraction tool as long as the chosen music is favorable to that individual,” says Donald S. Corenman, MD, DC, a member of the SpineUniverse Editorial Board who shared his comments on the study.

“About half of my patients already listen to their source music devices postoperatively,” Dr. Corenman says. “But I will now encourage the other half to bring their music to the hospital.”

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