On the operating table with headphones on: music helps against addiction to painkillers

1.3 million Dutch people take potentially addictive pain medication. One in ten becomes a chronic user. The addiction can arise around surgery. New research shows that music during surgery reduces the risk of addiction.

Last year, 63-year-old Marien Hogendoorn fell from a ladder from a height of 7 meters. He broke almost everything: arm, wrist, collarbone, and even had a skull base fracture. “Actually, it is a miracle that I recovered so well. I walk without help, I can do everything again. I just can’t take my wife up a ladder anymore.”

‘Major social problem’

Hogendoorn is now being operated on, because a metal plate has to be removed from his wrist. Not a major intervention, but every operation is accompanied by pain and requires medication. And pain medication is potentially very addictive.

“Addiction to pain medication is a major social problem,” said Hans Jeekel, professor of surgery and researcher at Erasmus MC. “We all know the worrisome situation in the United States. But in the Netherlands, too, about 1.3 million people take potentially addictive painkillers. Research has shown that one in ten people who receive these drugs becomes a chronic user. It takes epidemic shape. “

Listen to music

Jeekel and his team have been researching the influence of music on patients during a hospital stay for years. “We already knew that music can help reduce anxiety and stress,” says the doctor. But now there is an even bigger breakthrough: music can help to avoid becoming addicted to pain medication.

“We have found a surprising and completely side effect-free way through music to reduce the number of people who become chronically addicted to pain medication. What exactly happens in the brain while listening to music we still need to investigate, but that everything happens is obvious, “says Jeekel.

With headphones on the operating table

Addiction to painkillers often arises around surgery, because patients are given this medication before, during and after the procedure. Erasmus MC has therefore recently examined the effect of music on their pain medication in 5,000 people who had surgery.

Half of them received headphones with music. What turned out? These people needed much less pain medication than people who had the same surgery without headphones with music. The researchers will soon publish their world first in the renowned surgical journal ‘Annals of Surgery’.

“Soothing to enter the surgery with music”

Hogendoorn thinks it is a great idea to enter his wrist operation with music. “I am a believer and I really like Christian music. I am happy with the band Sela. The singer died not too long ago of cancer. I love her music so much that I chose it for the operation.”

“I don’t know exactly what the research into music and pain perception entails, but I think it is in any case calming to be put under anesthesia with pleasant music,” says Hogendoorn.

Heavy metal doesn’t work

The Ministry of Health is looking with interest at the Erasmus MC study. The results of the study are discussed within the ministry’s task group and also with the health insurers. In the autumn, the task group will come up with a concrete proposal about the broader application of treatment with music. So there is a good chance that headphones will be available in many operating rooms in the future.

Also read

And nice detail: According to Jeekel, it does not matter what music you listen to during the operation. Classic, pop, soul or blues. Everything has an effect, the study showed. With one exception: heavy metal. And that is not so surprising.


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Music during surgery fights addiction to pain medication

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