Music Reduces Stress in Surgery Patients

July 23, 2001

What do you find stressful? School? Work? Would going to the hospital for surgery be stressful? What would you do to relax? Some people think that listening to music reduces stress. What is it about music that people find relaxing? Is it the melody, harmony or rhythm or something else?

New research published in Psychosomatic Medicine investigated how music reduces stress associated with eye surgery. A group of 40 elderly patients scheduled for cataract removal or glaucoma surgery were questioned about the stress they felt regarding their upcoming surgery. Half of these patients (the "music group") were given headphones and were allowed to select music to listen to before and during their surgery. The music group could choose from 22 different musical types including soft hits, classical guitar, chamber music, folk music and popular singers from the 1940s and 1950s. The other 20 patients were placed in a "no music group" and did not get headphones or any music. To measure stress, the researchers measured the blood pressure and heart rate of each subject five times: one week before surgery, on the day of surgery, just before surgery, during surgery and immediately after surgery.

Blood pressure and heart rate of patients in the music and no music groups were the same when measured one week before surgery and on the day of surgery (before anyone in the music group received the headphones). Immediately before surgery, patients in both groups had increased blood pressure and heart rates indicating that they were experiencing some stress. However, when people in the music group put on their headphones and started to listen to music, their blood pressure and heart rate dropped back to the original baseline levels. This occurred in patients within five minutes after they put on the headphones. Patients in the no music group continued to experience higher than normal blood pressure and heart rates during and after surgery. Immediately after surgery, the music group had significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate compared with the no music group. After surgery, the music group patients also reported less stress and were better able to cope with their surgery compared with no music group patients.

The figure on the left shows the effect of music on heart rate measured one week before surgery (1), on the day of surgery (2), just before surgery (3), during surgery (4) and after surgery (5). Notice that the heart rate of patients in the music group returned to a lower level after they listened to music (just before surgery). The heart rate of patients in the no music group remained high.

All types of music were capable of reducing heart rates and blood pressure and of controlling stress. The researchers who performed the experiments believe that the beneficial effects of music are related to the patient's ability to choose the music. In other words, when people get to choose the music, they appear to be more relaxed.

The brain mechanisms responsible for the beneficial effects of music on stress, heart rate and blood pressure are not clear. However, these new data suggest a safe and inexpensive way to control stress in people who will have surgery. Additional experiments are needed to see if music has similar beneficial effects in children and teenagers. Perhaps next time you go to the doctor's office you can bring along your CD player. What type of music would you choose to play?


  • Allen, K., Golden, L.H., Izzo Jr., J.L., Ching, M.I., Forrest, A., Niles, C.R., Niswander, P.R. and Barlow, J.C., Normalization of hypertensive responses during ambulatory surgical stress by perioperative music. Psychosomatic Medicine, 63:487-492, 2001.

BACK TO: Neuroscience In The News Table of Contents

Send E-mail

Fill out survey

Get Newsletter

Search Pages

Take Notes