Music, be it a Bach symphony or the snarling punk of the Sex Pistols, can relieve pain and lessen anxiety, according to two studies.

The research work, by psychologists at Glasgow Caledonian University, found that people listening to music feel less pain than those who are not and that music can relieve the symptoms of anxiety for patients recovering from surgery.

In one study, 20 people who received minor foot surgery listened to music of their choice as they recovered, while a further 20 who had undergone similar surgery did not.

The patients who had listened to music, regardless of its type, reportedly felt much less anxiety than those who did not.

The second study, which involved inducing pain in volunteers, served to support the first.

A team at the university used a technique known as the “Cold Pressor test” where volunteers immerse one hand in a bath of water constantly circulating at a permanent temperature of 0.1C. Previous research has shown that this technique, which has been used in tests for half a century, has the effect of inducing chronic pain in the hand the longer it remains immersed.

Again the 44 participants were separated into two groups. Half were permitted to listen to music of their choice, while the rest were played a tape of Billy Connolly stories.

Those listening to the music were able to keep their hand submerged in the water far longer than those listening to the Big Yin.

Also, all those listening to music reported that they felt in control of the situation, unlike members of the other group.

Dr Laura Mitchell, a music psychologist, said of the second test: “There was a massive range of music that people chose to listen to, from Sri Lankan folk music to hardcore punk rock, but it seemed to have the same effect in each of the participants.

“This research took place against a whole background of psychology in music, and it tells us that music can powerfully distract us and make us feel a sense of familiarity in strange surroundings that gives us a high degree of control over pain.

“In this way it can transport patients away from a situation that would otherwise cause great distress or anxiety.

“It has obvious applications in a clinical sense, as hospitals are rather unfamiliar places to the general public, with machines bleeping and staff constantly running around.

“If patients can bring in something that they associate with being at home and relaxed, then it can only help them settle in an unfamiliar environment.”

A follow-up survey of more than 300 patients at Glasgow Gartnavel pain clinic also revealed that more than a quarter of those questioned were already reporting that music played a part in their daily pain-management regime.

Previous studies have revealed that patients with painful wounds that required repeated dressing suffered much less when allowed to listen to music they had chosen while the re-bandaging took place.

Simply listening to music has been proven to reduce post-operative pain and to reduce the suffering associated with childbirth.

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