Music in Stroke Recovery

Normally, when people think of stroke rehabilitation, we think of physical therapy and exercises to strengthen weak arms and legs.

But, often, rehabilitative therapy after a stroke involves more than just physically working the muscles that have been impaired by a stroke.

Different tools, such as computers, can be useful throughout the process of stroke rehabilitation. New research is finding that music is one of the useful tools for enhancing stroke survivors' physical and cognitive recovery.

Music therapy in stroke rehabilitation involves using music as an aid for the recovery of motor and thinking functions. Several research studies over the years have shown promising results with the  use of music after a stoke. There are a number of different ways that music is used to help in stroke recovery.

Music relaxation

Music in stroke therapy can be used for enjoyment and relaxation in between physically challenging exercise sessions. The effect of music on the brain may stimulate changes that contribute to healing and recovery. Scheduled sessions that incorporate listening to music, particularly classical music, can be used as a supplementary tool in rehabilitation.

Interestingly, a stroke survivor's hearing does not have to be perfect to be able to detect some beneficial qualities of musical sounds, so that even hearing impaired stroke survivors can benefit from music for relaxation as a part of the stroke recovery regimen.

Music with rehabilitation

Music has been used in conjunction with physical exercises or cognitive exercises to optimize function. Music may work to improve healing after a stroke by rebuilding damaged connections or building new connections between different areas of the brain for improved recovery. Music can help with pacing, with coordination of muscles and with concentration and focus during therapy sessions.

Music as an active skill

Some stroke survivors benefit from actively making music by playing an instrument or by singing. The active production of music requires the coordination between many parts of the brain and can help in building memory and motor function.

Music and mood

Music has a powerful effect on mood for many people. Various musical pieces can elicit pleasant or unpleasant emotions, generally rooted in life memories. The response of mood to music may be conscious or subconscious. Music that evokes memories of pleasant interpersonal connections or achievements may elevate the mood of some stroke survivors. Mood and the level of stress or relaxation have been shown to play a significant role in stroke recovery. Music can be a helpful way to elicit certain positive moods.

Negative effects

Music therapy research studies have not demonstrated negative or harmful effects of music on stroke recovery. And, it is relatively easy for a stroke survivor to express an opinion about music and to choose preferred music, which makes selecting music pieces an easy and pleasant task.

Besides music, other pleasant life experiences, such as caring for a pet or joining a support group, have also been shown to help stroke survivor's recovery.


Grau-Sánchez J, Amengual JL, Rojo N, Veciana de Las Heras M, Montero J, Rubio F, Altenmüller E, Münte TF, Rodríguez-Fornells A, Plasticity in the sensorimotor cortex induced by Music-supported therapy in stroke patients: a TMS study, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, September 2013

Lim KB, Kim YK, Lee HJ, Yoo J, Hwang JY, Kim JA, Kim SK, The therapeutic effect of neurologic music therapy and speech language therapy in post-stroke aphasic patients, Annals of Rehabilitative Medicine, August 2013

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