Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Peoria, Peoria, Illinois, USA
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Music has been suspected of having therapeutic properties for thousands of years. Ancient reports of music therapy can be found in writings from major civilisations including Egypt, China, India, Greece and Rome. The first scientific reports of music therapy in the clinical setting date back to World Wars I and II when music was used to relieve pain and agitation in soldiers with traumatic war injuries. At the present time, the therapeutic effects of music have already been investigated in a variety of clinical scenarios and health care settings. The recent increase in clinical music therapy research has allowed for higher levels of data analysis to take place, such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses that have generated stronger evidence in support of music therapy. The authors reviewed the literature regarding music therapy as an adjuvant therapeutic tool in medical practice.
Materials and methods
A literature search was conducted using the following criteria: supportive, peer-reviewed, scientific music therapy research on human subjects, available in the English language, dating from 1990 until 2012 and listed on the PubMed/Medline database in the form of randomised and non-randomised clinical trials, meta-analyses and systematic reviews. A multi-word, multi-search approach was used, utilising various combinations of terms such as ‘music’, ‘therapy’, ‘anxiety’, ‘pain’, ‘symptoms’, ‘patient’, ‘anxiolytic’, ‘analgesic’, ‘vitals’, ‘heart rate’ and ‘blood pressure’. All articles that met the criteria were then systematically categorised twice based on two separate categories: variables under investigation (e.g. anxiety, pain, analgesic use, vital signs and biochemical markers) and level of evidence provided by the research study according to its design (non-randomised or randomised controlled clinical trial, meta-analysis or systematic review).
Forty-nine studies met the proposed search criteria, consisting of six systematic reviews, three meta-analyses, 33 randomised and seven non-randomised clinical trials. The primary variables targeted by these studies included anxiety/sedative requirements (42 studies), vital signs (30 studies), pain/analgesic use (22 studies), mood/depression (five studies) and biochemical markers related to pain, fear and anxiety (seven studies). The authors found that music therapy has already been investigated scientifically in a broad array of clinical settings in several medical fields including family medicine, paediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, gastroenterology, cardiology, pulmonology, haematology and oncology, otolaryngology, urology, obstetrics and gynaecology, surgery, anaesthesiology, interventional radiology, neurology and psychiatry.
The results of this review suggest that music therapy may be useful as an adjuvant therapy in medical practice in a broad variety of clinical settings, from the general clinical exam room to specific scenarios involving interventional procedures and surgical operations. This review provides a useful evidence-based summary for both generalists and specialists about the current scientific evidence of the beneficial effects of music therapy as an adjuvant tool in medical practice. Moreover, as music therapy represents a very inexpensive and safe therapeutic tool, which has been shown to positively influence several physiological variables related to anxiety, stress response and pain, the presented scientific evidence is intended to increase awareness among the medical community of the possible benefits of the widespread application of music therapy throughout modern medical practice.