Reprinted with the kind permission of Shivani Lalloo and FMA UK.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is defined by Munro and Mount (1978) as the controlled use of music and its influence on humans to aid the integration of physiology, emotions, and psychology, during treatment. The combination of using music as a therapy for treating illnesses has been common throughout centuries, especially during the Renaissance era. A music therapist will use music to facilitate behavioral changes, by allowing patients to use a variety of musical instruments. Then, the therapist will engage in discussions about the patient’s musical interaction, allowing the patient to express his or her feelings with the aid of musical interaction. This form of therapy falls under the concept of music psychology, which is the psychology behind pitch perception and performance. Vink (2001) states that, according to music psychology, patients with little knowledge of music theory respond with the same emotional intensity to music as knowledgeable music performers. Therefore, the main aim of music therapy is to determine how patients respond emotionally to music, and improve cognitive functioning and quality of life.
How Music Therapy applies to Fibromyalgia
Bicknell (2011) states that music therapy has been used for pain management and it improves the quality of life. Bicknell proposes that music relieves pain by distracting oneself from pain intensity, by disturbing the body’s pain and stress feedback loop, which evaluates one’s sensitivity to pain. This happens because music influences different neurochemical effects, which distracts one from negative feelings and past experiences of pain. Music can also inhibit the release of stress hormones and decrease the arousal of the pituitary-adrenal stress axis, which are responsible for increased pain intensity. Music can also influence the opioid system of the brain, which is responsible for the control of physical pain and negative emotions.
Therefore music therapy can be used to alleviate symptoms of pain and quality of life for fibromyalgia pain, by distracting patients from the experience of pain and negative emotions.
What Researchers Found
Onieva-Zafra and others (2011) examined the effects of music therapy on fibromyalgia, and found that music therapy, combined with relaxation techniques, reduced pain and depression, along with improving sleep for fibromyalgia patients. The aim of this study was to examine the efficacy of using music as an intervention for pain and depression.
The researchers completed this study by using a 4-week longitudinal trial design, in which sixty fibromyalgia patients were assigned to a music intervention group or a control group. The participants of the music intervention group listened to music daily for 4 weeks, and were assigned to listen to two types of music. The participants were also taught relaxation techniques, and the combination of relaxation techniques and music therapy significantly decreased pain intensity and improved quality of life. After 4 weeks, participants of the music intervention group reported a significant decrease of pain, while participants of the control group experienced no change in pain and quality of life. Researchers greatly recommend the combination of music and relaxation for patients with fibromyalgia and other conditions of chronic pain. However, the efficacy of this combination depends on the patient’s dedication and willpower to be involved in the treatment.
Chanda and Levitin (2013) described the neurochemical effects of music and how it helps with chronic pain. The researchers state that musical interventions decreased cortisol and endorphins, which are markers of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (responsible for release of stress hormones), along with decreasing levels of cortisol, prolactin, ACTH, growth hormone, and norepinephrine levels. Chanda and Levitin (2013) state that music initiates brain responses that reduce muscle tension, heart rate, and skin conductance. This relates to Onieva-Zafra and others’ (2011) study, in which they state that music interventions decrease pain intensity. If music is able to reduce muscle tension, then possibly the muscle pain experienced in fibromyalgia may decrease. Additionally, if music interventions do decrease the release of stress hormones, then most of the emotional and anxiety symptoms of fibromyalgia may decrease. Chanda and Levitin (2013) also provide evidence that music improves mood and stress, and it may also increase one’s immunity.
Chanda, M. L., & Levitin, D. J. (2013). The neurochemistry of music. Trends in cognitive sciences, 17(4), 179-193.
María Dolores Onieva-Zafra, Adelaida María Castro-Sánchez, Guillermo A. Matarán-Peñarrocha, Carmen Moreno-Lorenzo. Effect of Music as Nursing Intervention for People Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Pain Management Nursing, 2010.
Vink, A. (2001). Music and emotion: Living apart together: A relationship between music psychology and music therapy. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 10(2), 144-158.