The benefits of music and surgery

1st May 2012


It has been noted for thousands of years that music has a number of different effects on humans, with reactions to music dependent on individual preferences, current mood and emotions.

It has been well documented that surgery is associated with increased levels of anxiety and that this emotional state can lead to both psychological and physiological responses. These effects may adversely affect surgical outcomes and the patient hospital journey. Musical interventions have been used to reduce patient anxiety in multiple healthcare settings, particularly pre-operatively, such as in the waiting room. Patients are probably most anxious in the operating room, and interventions to minimise such feelings are always welcome.

A service evaluation of emergency and elective procedures performed under local anaesthetic was undertaken at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. Of 96 patients participating, 48 (i.e. half) were exposed to music and the other half underwent the procedure without exposure to music. The tracks consisted mainly of easy listening music and chart classics.

Anxiety was quantified subjectively using a validated visual analogue scale (VAS) and objectively by measuring respiratory rates.

The group played music scored about a third less on the VAS and were also noted to have lower breathing rates post-operatively - an average of 11 breaths per minute compared to 13 breaths per minute in the non-music group.

It has been reported that classical music has the greatest health benefits, especially the works of Mozart, Bach and Italian composers. Patient choice in music familiarity with the music is important in its ability to reduce anxiety levels. This service evaluation looked at the role of music per se, as opposed to the type of music in reducing patient anxiety intra-operatively. It is interesting to note that this paper received national and international press interest.

Certainly this data suggests that there is place for a large multicentre, randomised controlled trial with robust subjective and objective measures of anxiety encompassing a range of different surgical specialties where local anaesthetic procedures are carried out.

If through the use of music we are able to improve the patient journey and reduce patient anxiety, it may become our duty to offer it to our patients (and staff).

In my experience, music is almost always welcome by patients and staff, and it creates a familial, team-feeling ambience. I personally enjoy listening to music indoors and outdoors. I feel listening to music helps me get things done comfortably, even when it can be a daunting task-such as writing this article on a Sunday!

Hazim Sadideen
Plastic surgery registrar


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