A two-day-old is apparently not too young to benefit from listening to the Moonlight Sonata.
The idea that music can be medicinal has long been controversial, in part because promising research has proven difficult to duplicate. But two new studies present compelling evidence that pleasant melodies can reduce physical pain.
A systematic review of previous research finds solid evidence of such an analgesic effect. And a new study finds gentle harmonies can even ease discomfort among newborns.
Together, they provide promising news at a time when a lot of people are in pain, and too many attempts at relief lead to dangerous addictions. It’s clearly better to reach for the iPad than for the opiates.
The “umbrella review,” published in the journal Early Human Development, analyzed results from 13 previously published papers. While the studies utilized a variety of methods and criteria, their results produced a clear pattern.
“Most of the reviews found a significant effect of music on pain,” writes a team led by Colombian researcher Juan Sebastian Martin-Saavedra. It concludes music should be considered “a clinically significant complementary therapy to be used for the management of pain.”
Interestingly, the researchers found no significant differences when the music was chosen by the patient rather than by the researcher. This suggests relief does not require listening to one’s favorite tunes.
Which is good news for newborns, most of whom have yet to establish a personal playlist. But they too can benefit from the pain-reducing effects of music.
The study featured 80 full-term newborns between the ages of one and three days, all of whom were treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of University Hospital in Brescia, Italy. All were subjected to painful medical procedures—specifically the Guthrie Test (in which their heels were pricked to draw blood) and/or antibiotic injections into a muscle.
The infants were randomly assigned to have the procedure done in silence, or while music was playing. For some, the soundtrack was Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos”; for others, it was the famous first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.