A drug-free way to relieve pain in children

When kids have surgery, the pain they experience afterward can be a serious problem. Opioid painkillers often cause dangerous breathing difficulties in youngsters. But a test at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine shows there’s a drug-free technique that can help.

According to this study, letting kids listen to their favorite music or stories (“audio therapy”) significantly reduces their pain after an operation.

“Audio therapy is an exciting opportunity and should be considered by hospitals as an important strategy to minimize pain in children undergoing major surgery,” says researcher and anesthesiologist Santhanam Suresh. “This is inexpensive and doesn’t have any side effects.”

The researchers say this is the first randomized study that investigates and proves the value of patient-chosen audio therapy as a promising method to limit pain in youngsters after surgery. Other studies have examined the efficacy of music to quell pain during short medical procedures.

According to Suresh, audio therapy may be able to beneficially interrupt a secondary pathway in the brain’s prefrontal cortex that plays a part in imprinting painful memories.

“There is a certain amount of learning that goes on with pain,” he notes. “The idea is, if you don’t think about it, maybe you won’t experience it as much. We are trying to cheat the brain a little bit. We are trying to refocus mental channels on to something else.”

Suresh adds that letting children choose the music or stories they want to listen to is an important part of the therapy: “Everyone relates to music, but people have different preferences.”

Researcher Sunitha Suresh, Suresh’s daughter who also took part in conducting the research, adds: “One of the most rewarding aspects of the study was the ability for patients to continue their own audio therapy. After the study, several patients ended up bringing in their iPods and listening to their own music. They hadn’t thought of it before.”

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.