London: Listening to music before, during and after surgery reduces people's pain, anxiety and need for painkillers, according to the most comprehensive review of available evidence so far, scientists say.
Led by Queen Mary University of London, the study team analyzed the results of 73 randomized controlled trials looking at the impact of music on postoperative recovery, compared with standard care or other non-medical interventions such as massage.
The systematic review involved nearly 7,000 patients in total and the findings confirmed, for the first time, the link between music in the operating theatre and a significant reduction in postoperative pain, postoperative anxiety and the need for postoperative pain relief medication.
Researchers analyzed data on adult patients undergoing a variety of surgical procedures, with or without anaesthesia, to any part of the body. The only exclusions were surgery on the central nervous system, head and neck (because of potential hearing impairment).
Choice of music, timing and duration varied in all the studies analyzed, and evidence showed these factors made little difference to the outcome.
Music was effective even when patients were under general anaesthetic, according to the results published in The Lancet.
"Currently music is not used routinely during surgery to help patients in their postoperative recovery," said Dr Catherine Meads, who led the study at Queen Mary University of London but is now based at Brunel University London.
"The lack of uptake is often down to the scepticism of professionals as to whether it genuinely works, and of course issues of budget and the integration into daily practice.
"We hope this study will now shift misperceptions and highlight the positive impact music can have," Meads said.
The scientists are following up this research with a pilot scheme of introducing music into operative settings at The Royal London Hospital. The two areas piloted will be women having Caesarean sections and women having hysteroscopy.
Patients will submit their music playlist on a device of their choice, and this will be connected to a pillow with in-built loudspeakers.
The researchers will then analyze the effectiveness of rolling this out in practice, and will deepen their understanding of why some evidence-based innovations might be difficult to put into practice.
A recent study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, and conducted by Imperial College London, had claimed that playing music during surgery can make it difficult for surgeons to communicate and increase tension between the doctors and staff, thereby putting patients' life at risk.