Northwestern study finds music alleviates pain after pediatric surgery

Mariana Alfaro, Assistant Campus Editor

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Listening to songs or audiobooks 30 minutes after major surgery significantly reduces pain in pediatric patients, a Northwestern Medicine study found, the University announced Thursday.

Feinberg School of Medicine Prof. Dr. Santhanam Suresh, chair of pediatric anesthesiology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, conducted the study with his daughter Sunitha Suresh, a fourth-year medical student at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She designed the study when she was a biomedical engineering student in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science with a minor in music cognition.

In the study, children ages 9 to 14 listened to audiobooks and different music genres they chose. The study is believed to be the “first randomized study to evaluate and demonstrate the use of patient-preferred audio therapy as a promising strategy to control post-surgical pain in children,” the University said in the news release.

“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. Suresh said in the release. “This is inexpensive and doesn’t have any side effects.”

Sunitha Suresh, who worked with Bienen Prof. Richard Ashley and Feinberg Prof. Dr. Gildasio S. De Oliveira Jr., said it surprised her that audiobooks worked just as well as music.

“Some parents commented that their young kids listening to audio books would calm down and fall asleep,” Sunitha said in a news release. “One of the most rewarding aspects of the study was the ability for patients to continue their own audio therapy.”

The 60 children surveyed were divided into three different groups. One group listened to music for 30 minutes, another listened to audiobooks for 30 minutes and the last group listened to 30 minutes of silence via noise-canceling headphones. The group that listened to silence reported no change in pain, while the other two groups felt significantly less pain.

The study, funded by an NU undergraduate research grant, found the therapy worked regardless of the patient’s initial pain score.

The paper was published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery on Jan. 3.

Twitter: @marianaa_alfaro