Music can soothe the soul and the body. A new systematic review and meta-analysis confirms that listening to music improves patient recovery after surgical procedures.

Catherine Meads, PhD, of Brunei University in Uxbridge, UK, and colleagues analyzed 73 randomized controlled trials in which patients heard music before, during, or after surgery (with or without sedation or anesthesia). Unlike previous reviews, the researchers considered more than one aspect of the patient experience and all types of elective surgery from minor procedures to transplantation (with the exception of operations of the head, neck, or central nervous system). They also investigated the timing of music, choice of music, and the pairing of music and anesthesia. In the individual studies, music was compared to routine care, no music, white noise, or undisturbed bed rest.

The meta-analysis revealed that music decreased post-operative pain, anxiety, and use of pain medications, while increasing patient satisfaction, according to results published in The Lancet. It did not, however, affect length of hospital stay. The choice and timing of music made little difference, although most often it was soothing. Music even helped patients under general anesthesia (although the effects were larger when patients were awake).

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“Modern theories of pain suggest that pain experience is affected by physical and psychological factors. Cognitive activities such as listening to music can affect perceived intensity and unpleasantness of pain, enabling patients’ sensation of pain to be reduced,” the investigators explained. “Another potential mechanism could be reduced autonomic nervous system activity, such as reduced pulse and respiration rate and decreased blood pressure.”

Care needs to be taken to ensure music does not disturb the team performing the operation, the researchers stated. In most of the studies, the music volume was low enough that patients could hear instructions and respond to questions. It was delivered via headphones or music pillows directly to the patient or by a speaker that all could hear.

The investigators believe that enough evidence supports music that it should be made available to surgery patients with the conditions adapted to the clinical setting.  


  1. Hole, J; Hirsch, M; Ball, E; and Meads, C. The Lancet; doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60169-6.