The day I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t concentrate because of the excruciating pain from a tooth that needed a root canal. Nothing worked to relieve that pain. Consequently, I turned to my best pain-killer–music. Yes, music! I put on my old school CD’s, meaning songs with a melody and lyrics you don’t have to decipher. For about three pain-free hours I had a wonderful time singing along with the artists just as if I had been there when they were recording. Now there’s nothing mysterious about this. It’s nature’s way of releasing pain-relieving and “feel good” brain chemicals (endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine) resulting in temporary relief. It must be music that you like. Hearing music you don’t like has negative results. We are all blessed with these remarkable brain chemicals. But keep in mind, music doesn’t eliminate the cause of the pain and music won’t work on that need-to-get-to-the-hospital type of pain.
Music lets us–makes us–allows us to FEEL, it touches our soul. Research has proven that music can excite the brain whether we’re singing, listening, dancing, playing an instrument, humming, whistling.
These same pain chasers also pull me through while playing the keyboard or organ. The challenge of practicing to play a song without making mistakes, rearranging a favorite piece of music, or trying to play a song by ear, makes pain run and hide while sending my mood skyrocketing. (By the way, don’t let a little kid hear you say that you can play by ear!)
Every human responds to music, even at a very early age. Children have a natural love of music. It’s no doubt about how soothing lullabies help babies relax and sleep better. It’s even been shown that premature infants have gained more weight and have lower blood pressure and a stronger heart when exposed to music. We have all probably watched those toddlers, smiling and clapping their hands, bobbing and weaving, while trying to dance with those little chubby unsteady legs.
“This is fun!”
“Start the music.”
“Monkeys on the Bed” and “Old MacDonald’s Farm” never fail to bring squeals of delight from preschoolers, and flash cards take a back seat to singing the “Alphabet Song”. Remember how excited those teenagers were on Dick Clark’s “American Band Stand”? And Don Cornelius provided the “joy spotlight” for those showing off their dance moves on “Soul Train”.
Music not only makes us happy and reduces pain, it helps us cope with many situations and has a powerful effect on our body as well as our brain. No one is claiming that music cures anything or that it should take the place of medicine or treatments, but it can be a helpmate for all who need help. This is where music therapy comes in. With individualized care plans, trained therapists use music in a variety of ways to aid in the healing and rehabilitation process, in an effort to improve a patient’s quality of life. It’s not always meant to just entertain, and a musical outcome isn’t the goal. No sheet music, musical ability, or prior music lessons required.
Music therapy has been around since ancient times demonstrating that music seems to be good for what ails us. It’s used in many settings, including schools, hospitals, community clinics, nursing homes, substance abuse treatment centers, hospice care, and prisons. From what I witnessed, it seems to have the power to transform some harden criminals into genteel gentlemen for a while.
Music can even change our brain by creating new pathways around areas damaged by stroke, tumor, or other brain injuries. In other words, the incredible brain can make a way when there is no way, as seen in patients with brain injuries or brain tumors who can’t talk, but with music therapy, they can sing! (See “The Wonders of Music”.) It helps stroke victims learn to walk, and some veterans with one limb find it beneficial in their effort to walk. Several VA hospitals are also using music therapy to help vets cope with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Walter Reed Army Medical Center recently added a music therapy program.
In patients with cancer, music can help them cope with some of their symptoms and side effects of their treatment, as well as reduce pain and anxiety, according to the American Cancer Society. Music can be a calming outlet for heart patients and decrease their blood pressure, heart rate and improve their breathing as stated by the American Heart Association. It’s been shown to even benefit autistic children by helping them communicate and develop social skills, giving them an opportunity to express themselves.
Playing the keyboard can be a godsend for the blind as they eagerly find the keys to make music. It’s been shown to calm the shaking, trembling hands of people with Parkinson’s disease. Easing the pain and stiffness in the hands of those suffering with arthritis has been demonstrated. An individualized care plan involving the keyboard can help a burn victim recovering with painful skin grafted hands.
Alzheimer’s patients, in every stage of the disease, can benefit from participating in all forms of music. Those who don’t even recognize family members and can no longer speak clearly, have been known to play the piano or sing their favorite songs–just like they did before their lives were derailed by the dreaded brain robber. (My mother was one of them.) Some can even be seen doing what’s called “the wheel chair boogie” when listening to their personalized iPod playlist while wheeling down the hall. It’s like they are being transported back to happier times when they hear what has now become those oldies but goodies. (See “The Wonders of Music”.)
The TV program “Nightline” featured a woman who had a double hand transplant. I would think music therapy could play a crucial role in her healing process. Robin Roberts, co-anchor on ABC’s “Good Morning America” said that music helped her through the painful, debilitating bone marrow transplant.
Music can benefit you, too. It doesn’t have to be tunes from yesteryear and you don’t need to have a problem to reap the benefits. How do you feel when you hear your favorite music? It has the power to lift your spirits, calm nerves, help you sleep, chase depression, move you to dance. How about dancing with your kids or grandkids? They’ll get a kick out of your old-timey moves, and the joy and laughter won’t come from any medication. Do you include music in your daily life? Let us know what music means to you.
I love music–country, gospel, jazz, soul, rock and roll, R&B. It’s as nourishing as food and essential vitamins. Every day music allows me to enjoy the wonderful benefits of nature’s medication prescribed by the Great Physician–possible side effects: toe tapping, laughter, dancing, singing, happy tears.
Watch music therapy in action–Click here “The Wonders of Music”
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