JUL 13, 2022 9:45 AM PDT

Listen Up: Sound Provides Pain Relief

WRITTEN BY: Kerry Charron

People often think of pharmaceutical treatments and meditation to ease physical pain, but pain can be alleviated with music therapy. A study published in Science explored the neural circuits in the mouse brain associated with sound-induced analgesia. The study found that the auditory cortex is functionally connected to brain regions involved in pain perception. Although human pain mechanisms are more complex than those of mice, the findings have significant implications for the design of pain management treatments. 

Methodology included behavioral tests, viral tracing, micro-endoscopic calcium imaging, and multielectrode recordings to evaluate this phenomenon. Sounds with a low signal to ambient noise ratio (SNR) reduced pain sensitivity by inhibiting input from the auditory cortex to distinct regions of the somatosensory thalamus. Particularly, a 5 decibel (dB) increase in sound intensity over ambient sound levels minimized pain. The researchers also found that artificial manipulation of specific neural circuits both mimicked and suppressed analgesia attributed to sound. 

Mice with inflamed paws were exposed to three types of sound: white noise, a classical music piece considered pleasant, and an unpleasant version of that classical piece. When all three types of music were played at a low intensity relative to background noise, pain sensitivity in the mice lessened, but higher intensities of the same sounds did not impact the mice’s pain responses. The scientists were surprised that the intensity of sound and not the music genre or perceived pleasantness of sound mattered. 

Some health care systems, such as Cleveland’s University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network, hire Board Certified Music therapists (MT-BCs) to provide inpatient music therapy for patients struggling with pain, stress and anxiety. Research studies conducted by University Hospitals has shown that music therapy reduces pain perception by 20% with no pharmacological medication. University Hospitals uses the acronym SPACE to evaluate a patient’s stress, pain, anxiety, coping, and education regarding pain management. They use music therapy in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. 


Source: NIH, Science

 

About the Author
BA and MA in English, MPS in Human Relations, and Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration
Kerry Charron writes about medical cannabis research. She has experience working in a Florida cultivation center and has participated in advocacy efforts for medical cannabis.
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