Can Music Therapy Relieve SCD Pain?

Many patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) experience “pain crises,” or periodic episodes of extreme pain. These pain crises occur when sickle-shaped red blood cells block the flow of blood through small blood vessels, and the pain can last for a few hours up to a few days. In an interview with music therapist Samuel Rodgers-Melnick, MT-BC, Healio shares that these pain crises are often far beyond what healthy individuals can understand. So is there a way to help reduce or manage pain during these crises? How about music therapy? 

In this interview, Rodgers-Melnick spoke with Healio about the results from the MUSIQOLS study, which sought to understand the impact of music therapy on pain management in SCD. To learn more about the study findings, take a look at the Journal of Pain Research

Music Therapy

The Cleveland Clinic describes music therapy as: 

The clinical use of music to accomplish individualized goals such as reducing stress, improving mood, and self-expression. Music therapy experiences may include listening, singing, playing instruments, or composing music.

In the past, research has found that music therapy can help improve memory and motivation, lower blood pressure, and even help people communicate better with others.

Rodgers-Melnick explains that in patients with SCD, pain crises are normally managed using hydration, analgesics, and even opioids if needed. However, he also explains that the pain is multidimensional, so using another form of therapy in conjunction – such as music therapy – can actually be incredibly beneficial to patients. In fact, he has been evaluating the benefits for the last ten years – and personally observed how music therapy reduced pain and improved happiness. 

Because of his prior observations, Rodgers-Melnick decided to launch the MUSIQOLS study – a six-part music therapy intervention – to better understand the intersection of music and pain management. Altogether, 24 patients with SCD enrolled. Patients were either in a control group or a six-part intervention using education and music exercises, breathing exercises, and different forms of relaxation. The study found that:

  • Patients engaging in music therapy reported higher quality of life, better social integration and communication, less pain, and less interrupted sleep. 
  • Additionally, patients were able to develop self-care and self-reflection skills that they could use in a more personal setting to deal with pain. 

While these results are promising, more research is needed in the future to understand the sustained response to music therapy – or whether a durable and sustained response exists. Additionally, researchers hope to perform more studies on whether the use of this therapy also correlates to a reduction in a need for pain medicine. 

About Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)

Sickle cell disease (SCD) refers to a group of inherited red blood cell disorders characterized by issues with hemoglobin. Normally, hemoglobin is found in red blood cells and helps to carry oxygen throughout the body. But the genetic defects associated with SCD cause the formation of abnormal hemoglobin, which causes red blood cells to become stiff, sticky, and sickle-shaped. These deformed blood cells then block and restrict blood flow, causing a number of related health issues. SCD significantly affects those of African-American descent. Symptoms associated with SCD include:

  • Pain crises
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Acute chest syndrome
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucus membranes)
  • Fatigue
  • Psychological distress
  • Painful swelling of the hands and feet
  • Delayed growth
  • Organ damage
  • Stroke
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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