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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Music Therapy

Published December 15, 2011 1:08 PM by Lisa Mueller

I listen to music a lot. I have an iPod in the bathroom I listen to as I get ready, and I usually take my iPod with me when I work out. I make lots of new playlists to listen to on my commute, constantly updating them with new songs depending on my mood. I grew up playing the piano; taking lessons weekly and finding new songs to learn. I would pick a new song, play it over and over again until I perfected every chord, then move on to a new piece. I am kind of the same way now - I find a song I like and then play it on repeat, over and over again, until every note has seeped into my soul and I've soaked up the feeling in every song.

Now, it's not very often that I hear songs about physical therapy, or songs that remind me of my work. But two songs have recently caught my attention - both country songs, of course. "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" by Martina McBride is about a 38-year-old woman with breast cancer. "I'll Walk" by Bucky Covington is the story of a girl with a spinal cord injury after a motor vehicle accident, and has brought tears to my eyes more than once. Both songs illustrate the process of healing and the support needed to get through the difficult times. Both songs are from the perspective of the patient, which we need to be reminded of often.

I don't incorporate a lot of music therapy into my physical therapy sessions but hearing songs like these remind me of the power of music. A research article titled "The Anxiety and Pain-Reducing Effects of Music Interventions: A Systematic Review" by Ulrica Nilsson and published April 2008 in AORN concluded that in half of the 42 reviewed studies, music had positive effects on reducing a patient's anxiety and pain, and further research is needed.

Integrating physical therapy and music can result in more pleasant outcomes for our patients. So the next time your plan includes interventions that may cause your patients pain, encourage them to bring an iPod with them, or offer a small headset for your patient's use in the clinic. Many hospitals have a few music stations on the television set that can be used during a session. Try it sometime this week and feel free to leave a comment below on how using music affected your physical therapy practice.


Good topic.  Had two unrelated experiences with this recently that echo what your post says.

Today I read an article on natural pain relief.  One of the concepts discussed was distraction through music.  The article sites a Canadian study that showed music effectively reduced children's (ages 4-6) perceptions of pain during injections.  (Japanese researchers showed the simple act of counting backwards from 100 reduced pain from needle sticks in adults.)

My mom recently had an MRI.  There was no pain involved, but she is claustrophobic.  Instead of earplugs they gave her earphones and asked her what music she enjoyed.  Some of the options they suggested were 50s music and 60s music.  Mom told them something from that era would be fine.  She told me they must have hit the wrong button because she got twangy "I beat my wife" music.  (She's not big on country music.)  "I had to listen to that for 45 minutes," she said with a laugh.  Even though she didn't appreciate their choice music for her, she was grateful for the effort to make her more comfortable.  

I wonder if she had been in pain rather than anxious, if she might have found the music irritating.  It's not possible to please everyone's taste in music, but the music style definitely needs to be taken into account.

I can definitely see this being useful as adjunct measure, especially during painful treatments.

BTW, another tear jerker country song related to healthcare is "Skin" by Rascal Flatts.  I still can't listen to it without crying.   But a great song.

Jane Goude December 18, 2011 7:48 PM


Thanks for the comments.  I really like the scenarios you described- I can just imagine pediatric patients dancing to music!  Actually, I know a lot of marathoners who buy music based on the time they want to finish the race- the songs have the right beat per minute to pace a runner to finish in 3 hours or 4 hours or whatever.  

Great ideas- I will have to share your thoughts with my coworkers!

Lisa Mueller December 17, 2011 9:28 AM

A few scenarios come to mind:

#1, one of my CIs played music to help the client relax.  It was a cancer rehab place (a "heavier" diagnosis place, perhaps), and the music did make the area feel very comfortable/enjoyable for most everyone.

#2, I've heard of another CI who insisted they play music because it adds a distractor into the environment, similar to the "real world."  

#3, we used it multiple times a day on a pediatric internship as a way to motivate the kids to move, have fun, work on coordination, etc.  

#4, I read a research article about auditory cuing for gait training.  They used a certain beats per minute and designed audio tracks to train to.  Pretty cool stuff, just another potential tool for us to use!

None of this is traditional music therapy, but it kind of relates. Either way, music was played for a reason.  There are pros and cons depending on your facility and the patients' preferences.  I think it'd be worth considering, as there are some anecdotal preferences at least.  It'd definitely be interesting to see more research based on the integration of music into physical therapy.

Tasha Parman December 16, 2011 10:00 PM

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