The New Musical Therapy
While there is strong evidence to support the use of music therapy as a tool to promote mental and physical health, there is a new dimension to music therapy that researchers are now studying. This is the notion of using song, sound frequencies and rhythm to directly treat physical ailments. That is, music is directly linked to reducing mental and physical pain.
A wealth of new studies is showing that music can have this direct effect on mental and physical health. For example, a meta-analysis of 400 studies found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress.
So how exactly does this work?
It involves science! The body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells (cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system) are increased when the subject listens to, or plays music. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol helping those who are in stressful situations. For example, it was shown that music can help reduce the stress of emergency room patients, in a study done on 42 children ages 3 to 11, patients who listened to relaxing music while getting an IV inserted reported significantly less distress when compared with those who did not listen to music.
Additionally researchers have found that palliative care patients who took part in live music therapy reported relief from persistent pain, leading researchers to believe that “Active music engagement allowed the patients to reconnect with the healthy parts of themselves, even in the face of a debilitating condition or disease-related suffering.”
At its core, music is sound, and sound is rooted in vibration. Vibroacoustic therapy involves using low frequency sound – similar to a low rumble – to produce vibrations that are applied directly to the body. During vibroacoustic therapy, the patient lies on a mat or a bed or sits in a chair embedded with speakers that transmit vibrations at specific computer-generated frequencies that can be heard or felt. In 2009, researchers found that short-term use of vibroacoustic therapy with Parkinson’s disease patients led to improvements in symptoms, including less rigidity and better walking speed with bigger steps and reduced tumors.
Researchers are also examining something called thalmocortical dysrhythmia – a disorientation of rhythmic brain activity involving the thalamus and the outer cortex that appears to play a role in several medical conditions including Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Since the rhythmic pulses of music can drive and stabilize this disorientation, researchers believe that low-frequency sound might help with these conditions.
The therapeutic effects of music have been known since the beginning of time. Plato said that "music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything."