Surgical blues?

Published last week in the British Medical Journal was an editorial reviewing the research into the effects of music on patients during surgical procedures. If you could choose your playlist for surgery what would it be? Anything that your surgeon wanted? What would you blacklist?

Hollywood  is not the first to recognise the link between medicine and music. Apollo, the Greek God of Healing was often depicted with a lyre. After all both music and medicine, ‘push manual skills to the limit,  both mature with practice & depend on immediacy, precision and opposable thumbs’, according to respected cancer physician and researcher, Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., Ph.D.

Barbara Barnett’s post ‘The Music of House, MD: An Essential Soundtrack’ posted on on July 9, 2008,  explores the use of music to propel the narrative and as an interpretative tool for the central character, Dr. Gregory House. It is not uncommon that individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome which is identified as a type of high functioning autism have exceptional technical musical ability. What what about emotional resonance or connectivity?

Some of us may like to imagine the operating temple as a hive of concentration and silence, where diligence and expertise hum against the backdrop of electronic monitors and beeping. We may be surprised to find sub woofers pumping out Black Sabbath or Bach. Or perhaps like Ben Challacombe,38, a consultant urologist, a mix of ‘old favourites and more contemporary stuff, something familiar, reassuring, interesting, but not distracting either’.

A survey published in the British Medical Journal, indicated that 90% of surgeons in the UK put music on the theatre’s sound system during operations.  The most favoured were uptempo beats, with 17% preferring pop music, and 11% classical. Somewhere Kylie, just might be ‘spinning around’ while a heart transplant is underway.

It is reported that plastic surgeons play the most music, and ear, nose and throat surgeons the least.  According to Jon Henley’s article published 27 September 2011 in, a 1994 study from the Journal of American Medical Association took 50 male surgeons aged 31 to 61 who habitually listened to music while they worked, and measured their heart rate, blood pressure, response time and task accuracy during a complex and stressful subtraction task. The self selection of music, led to decreased stress and increased performance.

There is evidence that assist patients treated under both local and general anaesthetic.  One groundbreaking 2008 study from that melodic music actually decreased the activity of individual neurones in the brain. ‘There is no question, music reduces anxiety before surgery’, says Zeev Kain, an anaesthetist at Yale University, who has done research on the subject. ‘It will decrease the amount of pain or anxiety medication a patient needs’. (the

In Max Pemberton’s light hearted piece, ‘Surgery a snip with the right rhythm’, published in the West Australian, Saturday 27 December 2014, he quotes findings of a study that showed, that playing music that has a rhythm that mimics the heartbeat is as effective as Midazolam, a relaxant give to patients undergoing a variety of procedures such as a colonoscopy.

There is a 1976 study that found rock music was preferable however a 2010 Surgical Endoscopy paper suggested that calming classical music was better,  however hip-hop, reggae and other more energising genres can have a beneficial impact as well.

I would prefer uplifting inspiring tracks and this one by Rebecca Ferguson would  be on my playlist for sure:


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