Can music aid relaxation in emergency departments?
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Can music aid relaxation in emergency departments?

Lisa Antonsen Nurse and PhD student, Odense University Hospital and University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

An emergency nurse’s study of whether music helps reduce patients’ anxieties over unplanned surgery proved a hit

Listening to music has a positive effect on pain, relaxation, and well-being in healthcare settings, according to research studies. Yet music interventions have never been tested in emergency departments (EDs).

Emergency Nurse. 31, 3, 9-9. doi: 10.7748/en.31.3.9.s3

Published: 02 May 2023

Experiencing hospital admission in advance of emergency surgery can be a stressful time for patients. They might be in a lot of pain, as well as feeling nervous and anxious about the unplanned surgery.

Despite recognising patients’ need for mental health support, healthcare professionals often focus primarily on practical tasks due to the pressures of the ED environment.

I wanted to explore whether nonpharmacological interventions could support patients during the waiting time for this type of surgery. I investigated the potential of using music interventions in preoperative nursing care in the ED as part of my master’s thesis. My research team and I conducted a study at Odense University Hospital in Denmark, where we invited 40 patients waiting for surgery to listen to music using a so-called ‘music pillow’ for 30 minutes. Overall, 30 participants completed the 30-minute music intervention.


Picture credit: ©MusiCure

The pillow contained a speaker connected to an MP3 player playing a MusiCure programme. MusiCure is specially composed with a mix of classical music and natural sounds.

Before and after the music intervention, I asked participants to report their pain, relaxation and well-being using a scale ranging from 0 to ten, with ten being the worst pain. During the music session, I conducted field observations, and after the music session, I interviewed the participants about their experiences of listening to music.

We found a statistically significant association between listening to music and acute preoperative pain, relaxation and well-being. The self-reported pain decreased from an average score of 4.8 to 3.7. Patients’ relaxation improved from an average of 4.6 to 7.6, and their feeling of general well-being increased from an average score of 4.3 to 6.6. The patients expressed their feelings of physical and mental well-being while listening to the music.

Field observations

When I conducted the field observations, I noticed that participants were often stressed and worried about their surgery, but most changed from being tense and upset to becoming more comfortable after the music session.

Patients described feeling relaxed and finding themselves thinking about something other than the pain and worries related to the impending surgery. The music appeared to provide a break from a hectic setting. In one of the interviews, a patient told me how it made her relax and feel like she was outside in nature listening to birdsong, rather than being in a hospital.

We found great potential in using music to support patients waiting for emergency surgery. Patients’ reactions to the music intervention were positive, and we found a willingness to participate in the study.

However, the busy and constantly changing environment in the ED was a source of disruption to the patients when listening to music.

For music to successfully promote mental and physical well-being, patients should not be disrupted while listening. Based on our study, we suggest that specific quiet zones in the ED might be relevant for the music intervention to reach its full potential.

Tips for music interventions in hospital settings

  • » Try to minimise possible disruptions for patients

  • » Explain the intention of the music intervention to the patient (relaxation, well-being and so on)

  • » Organise music interventions individually for each patient

Find out more

Antonsen L, Dieperink KB, Østervang C (2022) Music in the acute preoperative nursing care — a mixed-method pilot study. Nursing Open. 10, 4.

MusiCure in Healthcare.

The MusiCure Pillow.

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