Music Decreases Arthritis Pain in the Elderly
Listening to classical music decreases chronic osteoarthritis (OA) pain in community-dwelling elders, according to a new study in The Journal of Advanced Nursing (2003;44:517–24).
OA is the most common form of arthritis and a leading cause of pain and disability in Americans. A degenerative disease affecting the hyaline cartilage that covers joint surfaces, OA is characterized by irregularities in the cartilage and eventual cartilage loss resulting in bone-on-bone contact. These changes lead to pain and stiffness in and around affected joints, accompanied by limitation of joint function. Factors that contribute to the development of OA include increasing age, repetitive trauma (overuse of a particular joint), other bone and joint disorders, and some metabolic diseases. Heredity also appears to play a role. Weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, lower spine, and feet are most often affected. The neck and hands are also commonly involved.
The pain associated with OA may lead to decreased socialization, depression, loss of autonomy, sleep disturbances, and other impairment of normal functioning.
Pharmacological treatments for OA are aimed at symptom reduction and are frequently associated with negative side effects such as gastrointestinal damage from nonsteroidal antiflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Physical and occupational therapies help people with OA to better perform their activities of daily living. Other non-pharmacological treatments such as acupuncture and therapeutic touch have been studied and shown to enhance well-being in people with OA without the risk of undesirable effects.
This study examined the role of music as a means of decreasing chronic OA pain in elderly people. Sixty-six community-dwelling people aged 65 or older with a diagnosis of OA were randomly divided into two groups. The treatment group listened to 20 minutes of Mozart selections each morning for 14 days. The control group sat quietly for 20 minutes each morning for 14 days. Both groups recorded pain ratings using the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SF-MPQ).
Participants in the music treatment group reported significantly less pain on the SF-MPQ than those in the control group. The level of pain was decreased significantly after listening to music, and the amount of pain perceived by this group decreased incrementally over the 14-day study period. Control group participants experienced similar levels of pain before and after each test, and the level of pain remained the same over the study period.
Previous studies have shown that listening to music can reduce the perception of pain and improve mood. Music has been demonstrated to induce relaxation, decrease anxiety, and distract from the experience of pain. These effects are often accompanied by a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate.
The results of this study indicate that listening to classical music has significant pain-reducing effects on elderly people affected by OA. Healthcare workers and others can employ this safe and effective therapy easily as part of a comprehensive approach to OA management.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Beauchamp is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc. in Wakefield, RI. Her emphasis is on women’s health, pediatrics, and detoxification.
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