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Music as Medicine? Sinai Study on the Healing Power of Music

Music as Medicine? Sinai Study on the Healing Power of Music

Dr. Larry Picard is exploring how music can help ease pain

Rock ‘n’ roll tunes, lullabies and even the national anthem — songs have the power to shape our mood, but now researchers are noting music may also make the perfect medicine.

Dr. Larry Picard, a neurologist at the Wasser Pain Management Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, is one of several researchers in the city exploring how music can be used in health care.

Dr. Picard is wrapping up a pilot study at Mount Sinai, which is exploring how using music may help sleep and hold relief for patients with fibromyalgia. Dr. Picard says fibromyalgia is a poorly understood disorder. Once thought to be related to connective tissue, Dr. Picard believes it’s related to the central nervous system.

“The real source of the pain is in the nervous system rather than the parts of the body where pain is felt,” said Dr. Picard.  “This explains why many treatments have not worked. We need to treat the nervous system and not just where it hurts.” Dr. Picard and his team are looking at other ways to help these patients and they believe turning on an iPod during a snooze may be the answer.

The research team suggests that sleep deprivation alongside pain could be creating a terrible cycle. Dr. Picard says when people are deprived of sleep they feel more pain and when they feel pain, often, they are kept from sleep.

Picard has teamed up with Lee Bartel, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music Associate Dean of Research, to dig into the workings of sleep and its connection to pain. Bartel has been creating music that can influence a person’s brainwave activity. His music combines sounds recorded in nature with instrumentals. Bartel’s evidence, according to EEGs, suggests music significantly increases brainwave activity associated with sleep.

Building on Bartel’s work, Dr. Picard has launched his own study, which began this spring. Twenty fibromyalgia patients have been listening to music at night for a month to see if it improves their sleep. The team is asking these patients to fill out a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the sleep study. The team will measure music use, pain levels and successful sleeping habits to see whether there are correlations. There will be no brainwave analysis at this point, but if music is shown to help, researchers will expand on the study.

In addition to his research, Dr. Picard will be among several researchers working under the umbrella of the new University of Toronto Music and Health Research Collaboratory.