Music Therapy for Fibromyalgia Pain: Does it Work?

A Free, No-Risk Treatment

Listening to music may help ease fibromyalgia pain. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Music is gaining traction as a beneficial part of a fibromyalgia pain-management strategy. Researchers have long known that music can help alleviate pain and other symptoms. Three studies published in the summer of 2015 help us understand what role in may play in fibromyalgia treatment and why. They reinforce earlier work done in this area, as well.

Certainly, no one is suggesting that music is a stand-alone treatment.

However, as one component of your treatment plan, it may play an important role for some of us.

Effects of Music on Fibromyalgia Pain & Other Symptoms

A small study published in the August 2015 edition of Clinical Rheumatology evaluated participants' experience of listening to a relaxation CD that included music with water and wave sounds.

After listening every day for two weeks, researchers found that the participants had significantly less pain than when they'd begun.

A July 2015 study looked at whether music, with its emotional impact, would have a greater impact on pain than soothing environmental sounds. They also looked at both kinds of audio during rest and during activity.

They discovered that, after 20 minutes of listening, both types of sound significantly reduced pain and fatigue to similar degrees. The improvement only lasted for about 10 minutes after the listening session, though.

However, listening to either the music or sound appeared to keep pain from increasing during activity.

Earlier studies also have suggested reductions in pain and also depression, plus an increase in functional mobility after listening sessions. One (Picard) suggested that using music as a sleep aid in fibromyalgia reduced daytime sleepiness and improved scores on the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire, but it did not find a decrease in pain.

Why Does it Work?

Music does more than help us relax. Just listening to it can cause physiological changes in the brain.

A July 2015 study published in Frontiers in Psychology used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to find out what was going on in the brains of people with fibromyalgia as they listened.

Researchers discovered changes in an area called the left angular gyrus, which is involved with language, memory, attention, number processing and spatial cognition. After listening, they saw connectivity levels change between the left angular gyrus and numerous other areas.

They concluded that music led to changes in the way the brain processes pain, which in turn led to changes in the overall experience of pain.

This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. The brain is incredibly complex and we're really just beginning to understand it, so we still have a long way to go before we understand the full impact of music on the brain.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Music theory doesn't have to be a formal intervention performed at a medical facility – it can be something you do in the privacy of your own home, on your own schedule.

That also means it's free. And side effects? About the only risk is getting a song stuck in your head.

Planning time to sit or lie quietly and listen to music can help ensure that you take a break from the demands of the day, which could benefit you as well.

I wish I'd known about this while I was working full-time. I may have helped me get through the day with fewer symptoms. Now that I work from home, it's something that's easy to fit into my day.

This is a treatment that falls squarely in the "it can't hurt" category. Whether you gain relaxation time or significant pain relief, it's a win.

Sources:

Alparslan GB, et al. Clinical rheumatology. 2015 Aug 6. [Epub ahead of print] Effects of music on pain in patients with fibromyalgia.

Garza-Villarreal EA, et al. Frontiers in psychology. 2014 Feb 11;5:90. Music reduces pain and increases functional mobility in fibromyalgia.

Garza-Villarreal EA, et al. Frontiers in psychology. 2015 Jul 22;6:1051. Music reduces pain and increases resting state fMRI BOLD signal amplitude in the left angular gyrus in fibromyalgia patients.

Mercadie L, Mick G, Bigand E. Pain management nursing. 2015 Jul 8. pii: S1524-9042(15)00013-2. Effects of listening to music versus environmental sounds in passive and active situations on levels of pain and fatigue in fibromyalgia.

Picard LM, et al. Pain research and management. 2014 Mar-Apr;19(2):97-101. Music as a sleep aid in fibromyalgia.

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