Music That Gives You the ‘Chills’ Can Lower Pain Intensity, Study Suggests

Music is widely recognized for its ability to influence physical and mental well-being. However, recent studies indicate that music genres can have an even more significant impact on our interpretation of pain.

By Genni Burkhart

Warranted or not, many people associate pain with going to the dentist, making adequately alleviating it a crucial aspect (and art form) of the profession. Since sedation dentistry is adept at relieving pain during dental treatment, studies investigating ways to lessen pain are worth further Incisor insight.

While research has long indicated music as a potent, natural pain killer, the type of music you listen to also plays a role, according to a Canadian study published last year in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research.

Personal Preference

Exactly what kind of music is most effective? Well, that’s up to the listener. It might be Adele’s vocals for one patient, Handel’s Messiah for another, or one of Pink Floyd’s ballads that provokes the ‘chills.’

According to Darius Valevicius, the first author of the research from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, which was reported on in The Guardian, “We can approximate that favorite music reduced pain by about one point on a 10-point scale, which is at least as strong as an over-the-counter painkiller like Advil (ibuprofen) under the same conditions. Moving music may have an even stronger effect.”

Healing Vibrations

Scientific research on the healing powers of sound is still in its early stages, but the findings look promising.

A review of 400 published articles on music as medicine revealed substantial evidence that music can have significant mental and physical health benefits. It has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and relieve physical pain, especially through rhythmic patterns.

There are different ideas about why listening to certain sounds can make us feel relaxed and relieve physical pain. One theory is that sound waves create vibrations that affect our sense of touch and perception of pain.

As Psychology Today published, sound-based vibrations can reduce pain caused by arthritis, knee replacement, menstrual cramps, and postoperative pain.

Decreased Sensitivity

Hypoalgesia is when a person experiences decreased sensitivity to pain in their body. This condition can occur when the pain signals from their origin point are disrupted before they reach the brain's thalamus and cortex, where they are recognized as pain by the conscious mind. The Canadian study aimed to determine which aspects of a listener's relationship with their preferred music were important in producing a hypoalgesic effect.

Canadian researchers at McGill University studied 63 healthy participants to investigate their response to heat on their left arm. The sensation was likened to holding a hot cup of coffee against the skin. Participants were exposed to either two of their favorite music tracks: relaxing music selected by the researchers, scrambled music, or silence.

Researchers discovered the type of music a person listens to can significantly influence their perception of pain. When participants listened to their preferred tracks, the pain was perceived as less unpleasant by about nine points, compared to silence or scrambled sound. However, the relaxing music selected for them did not produce this effect. When exposed to scrambled sound or silence, the participants rated the pain as less intense by about four points on a 100-point scale.

Further research discovered music that triggered more chills was linked to lower pain intensity and unpleasantness.

Valevicius further explains in The Guardian that the results aren’t likely due to anticipation. “We found a very strong correlation between music pleasantness and pain unpleasantness, but zero correlation between music pleasantness and pain intensity, which would be an unlikely finding if it was just placebo or expectation effects,” he said.

In Conclusion

Researchers and neurologists are still trying to fully comprehend the exact mechanism behind the physical responses that certain types of music and vibrations can elicit, such as chills. Chills can take the form of a tingling sensation, shivers, or goosebumps. However, these reactions indicate a neurophysiological process that can block some pain signals.

While researchers may not fully understand the science behind the physical responses that music can evoke, the fact that these reactions can alleviate pain signals is a promising area of research. Meanwhile, it's easy to incorporate sound therapy into the dental operatory, allowing patients to choose music to alleviate pain, fear, and anxiety while in the dentist's chair.

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Author: With over 14 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer, Genni Burkhart's career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, technology, and news. She resides in Northern Colorado, where she works as the editor-in-chief of the Incisor at DOCS Education.

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