Music’s Healing Powers Go Beyond the Dance Floor

Music—we listen to it, we dance to it, and we can even heal with it. Music has been a part of healing since the beginning of mankind and isn’t a new concept. But learning the extent that music heals a patient and unlocking the mechanisms responsible have remained a mystery.

Claudius Conrad, MD, PhD, FACS, is trying to solve this mystery. Dr. Conrad, an internationally-renowned Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary surgeon and chief of General Surgery and Surgical Oncology at Steward Health Care is also a classically trained pianist. Over the years, he and fellow colleagues have been conducting landmark research on music’s influence on a patient’s healing process, surgeon’s performance, team dynamics and other important aspects of health care.

“I was a pianist before becoming a surgeon and once I became a surgeon, I realized there wasn’t a lot of research on the healing powers of music,” says Dr. Conrad. “I know, for me, music has been so helpful, and I wanted to share this with patients. This led me to do more scientific studies.”

As part of the research study, classical music was played for intensive care patients. Through his research, Dr. Conrad discovered that music may exert healing and relaxing effects partly through a paradoxical stimulation of growth hormone and subsequent decrease of a chemical used for cell communication called Interleukin-6. Dr. Conrad also looked at the effects on relatives of patients, who he finds are rarely the focus of research to help them.

“We discovered that playing music, even for a few minutes, can lead patients to a short-term relaxation state and surprisingly improve their outlook on life in general,” he explains. “Music reduces stress speeding up the healing process, which results in an improved recovery rate.”

How Music Impact a Surgeon’s Performance

The second facet of Dr. Conrad’s research focused on the effects of music on a surgeon’s performance as well as the operating room’s team performance during a procedure.

“Being a surgeon helps me become a better pianist, and being a pianist helps me become a better surgeon,” says Dr. Conrad. “Science and art, precision and creativity, discipline and transcendence. In the end, both are about connection. I wanted to research this connection and what role it plays in the operating room.”

During the research study, surgeons were tested on speed and precision in a virtual reality simulator while exposed to the following conditions: silence, auditory stress (heavy metal music in one ear and German folk music in the other), mental stress and classical music.

“We found that classical music allowed surgeons to perform as well as in silence. However, classical music increased surgeons’ speed and accuracy when the procedure was repeatedly performed,” he says. “We also discovered the important music is in the life of a surgeon the more they were negatively affected by auditory stress. This has important safety implications for the OR environment.”

In addition, the research proved that playing selected classical music in the operating room was an optimal choice for the heterogeneous OR team comprised of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, trainees and staff.

“We are continually finding new components in our research on music and medicine as there is still much more to uncover,” says Dr. Conrad. “What we have learned so far is, that music has healing powers for your body and your mind.”

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