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Study: Pop music helps ease post-surgery pain for children

January 19, 2015


To help children recover from surgery, a dose of "Diamonds" or "Shake It Off" could do the trick, according to a recent study.

Research from Northwestern University and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago asserts that listening to music and audiobooks is a viable alternative to medication for reducing post-surgery pain in children.

"Audio therapy is an exciting opportunity and should be considered by hospitals as an important strategy to minimize pain in children undergoing major surgery," Dr. Santhanam Suresh said in a news release. "This is inexpensive and doesn’t have any side effects."

The study, published recently in Pediatric Surgery, evaluated 54 patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital in late 2010. The patients were 9 to 14 years of age and had undergone various types of elective surgeries, according to the paper.

Three groups of 18 received different types of treatment, the study states. The first group spent 30 minutes listening to songs from a playlist they selected among several genres. A second group spent 30 minutes listening to an audiobook of their choice. The third group — the control group — received no audio therapy.

They chose from pop artists such as Rihanna, Beyonce, David Guetta, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez and from other genres such as classical, rock and country.

The audiobook selections included "Alice in Wonderland," "James and the Giant Peach," "The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit" and "The Hobbit."

Patients listening to music and audiobooks reported feeling less pain after receiving the therapy, according to the study. They indicated how they were feeling by pointing to images such as a happy face or a grimace.

Suresh is a Northwestern professor and the chair of pediatric anesthesiology at Lurie. He conducted the study with his daughter Sunitha Suresh, a medical student at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Gildasio De Oliveira Jr. of Northwestern.

Santhanam Suresh said that the examination into other approaches for post-surgery care is particularly important because physicians worry about the side effects of powerful painkillers in children.

He said part of the success of audio therapy simply is to distract from the thought of pain.

"There is a certain amount of learning that goes on with pain," Suresh said. "We are trying to cheat the brain a little bit. We are trying to refocus mental channels on to something else."

Sunitha Suresh designed the study while focusing on biomedical engineering and music cognition at Northwestern. She said finding that the audiobooks worked as well as the music proved surprising.

"Some parents commented that their young kids listening to audiobooks would calm down and fall asleep," she said. "It was a soothing and distracting voice."

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McClatchy-Tribune Information Services