Could listening to this electronic music track help get rid of your headache?

Music therapy has long been used to improve people’s emotional wellbeing, but can a specific piece of music be used to treat acute physical pain?

That’s the question that was posed by pain relief maven Nurofen, which commissioned Dr Claire Howlin, Psychology Researcher, University College Dublin, to consider the relationship between science, pain and music.

She partnered with music producer Anatole (Jonathan Baker), a conservatory-trained trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist. The result is All Of Us, a supposedly soothing new track that features on Nurofen’s Tune Out Pain playlist.

Nurofen says that it tested the tune on 286 active acute pain sufferers, and that it was “shown to reduce levels of pain intensity and unpleasantness in a way that was clinically and statistically significant”. 

What we don’t get are any specific numbers - we’re not told how many people the track ‘worked’ for or its level of efficacy, for example - but Nurofen claims that “Participants with different types of acute pain such as headache, backache or period pain reported their levels of pain intensity decreasing while listening to the track during the study.”

Anatole produced the track based on “scientific evidence” provided by Dr Howlin, with the aim of making it as interesting, engaging and enjoyable as possible so that people wouldn’t focus on their pain. This involved filling the frequency spectrum with instrumental and orchestral sounds “to elicit a sense of wonder, empowerment and inspire mental strength to help dissociate from pain.”

"Creating music that was driven by science was an exciting challenge for me as a music producer" said Anatole. "All Of Us is special because every note, beat and sound is designed to create a particular effect on the listener, based on insights provided by Dr Howlin.

“Music and pain is something all of us experience - this project shows how powerful music is and the potential benefit to our wellbeing."

Dr Claire Howlin said of the study: "Music has the ability to give people a big burst of dopamine in their neural reward network. This track reduced both pain intensity and unpleasantness, and to achieve an effect of this size for a completely unfamiliar track really underscores the potential of creating specific pieces of music for pain management."

The full results of the Tune Out Pain study will be submitted to an academic journal for publication.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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