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 an operation. New research shows that music during surgery reduces the risk of addiction.

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

‘Major social problem’

Hogendoorn is now undergoing surgery because a metal plate has to be removed from his wrist. Not a major procedure, but every operation is painful and requires medication. And pain medication is potentially very addictive.

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

Listen to music

Together with his team, Jeekel has 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 you to avoid becoming addicted to pain medication.

“We have found through music a surprising and completely side effect-free way to reduce the number of people who become chronically addicted to pain medication. Exactly what happens in the brain while listening to music still needs to be investigated, but all kinds of things happen. is very clear “, says Jeekel.

With headphones on the operating table

Addiction to painkillers often develops around an operation, because patients are given this medication before, during and after the procedure. That is why Erasmus MC recently investigated the effect of music on their pain medication in 5000 people who underwent surgery.

Half of them were wearing 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’.

‘Peaceful to enter the operation with music’

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

“I don’t know exactly what research into music and pain perception entails, but I think it is soothing 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 investigation are discussed within the task force of the Ministry and also with the health insurers. In the autumn, the task force will come up with a concrete proposal on a broader application of the treatment with music. So there is a good chance that headphones will be ready in many operating rooms in the future.

Also read

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

Music during surgery fights addiction to pain medication


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