By: 18 June 2012

Playing music in the operating theatre reduces anxiety and could improve healing time for the millions of patients who undergo operations under a local anaesthetic each year, says a new paper published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons. This work is the first to attempt to objectively and subjectively measure the effect of music on patients undergoing both planned and emergency surgical operations whilst awake.

Surgeons from the plastic and reconstructive department at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, measured the respiratory rates of ninety-six elective and emergency patients and asked them to rate their feelings of worry on a scale. All patients were measured before and after surgery and were awake throughout as their operations were undertaken under local anaesthetic. Half the patients had their operation in a theatre with music playing and half without – the group who were exposed to music reported lower levels of anxiety and had a lower breathing rate.

Mr Hazim Sadideen, the plastic surgical registrar who led this work, said: “Undergoing surgery can be a stressful experience for patients and finding ways of making them more comfortable should be our goal as clinicians. There are also good medical reasons – calmer patients may cope better with pain and recover quicker. This small scale work is the first time an attempt has been made to measure the impact music has in this specific group of patients and hints at the need for bigger multi-centre research to establish whether this should become part of standard practice.”