Central Sensitization, Interesting Articles

Can music block pain signals? Music-induced analgesia


I, personally, have known for a long time that music could help reduce my pain levels.  It’s just something that I always knew intuitively. Listen to music (good music, of course) –> feel better.

That’s why I was so intrigued when I found the following post from my friend Jo Malby on some of the science behind how music can lessen our experience of pain.  (I’m sharing it here with her permission, of course!).

Jo writes:

“The joy we derive from listening to music we love, much like anything that brings us joy, is always beneficial in helping us cope with chronic illness and pain. According to ongoing studies, researchers have found that there are many reasons for pain patients to listen to music they love.

Outside of the times when pain is too fierce or your body too sensitized and flared-up for sound or vibration, music can be a useful coping tool, though not only for the joy and escape music brings you.

With real physiological changes in the brain, listening to your favourite music can have a significant, positive impact on perception of chronic pain, as well as the pain itself, with some studies even finding music resulted in less intense pain levels.

Music also reduces anxiety and depression, both often natural consequences of unpredictable debilitating chronic illness and pain, and both difficult to manage and treat. Though it’s often under used as an natural anti-depressant.

Research has drawn its theories on how nerve impulses in the central nervous system are affected by music. Anything that distracts us from pain may reduce the extent to which we focus on it; music helps us shift our attention from the pain but it’s also emotionally engaging, especially if the piece has memories or associations.

With even the rarest of tunes now online — from YouTube to Spotify to Soundcloud to more exclusive sites — search for some of your favourite sounds or create playlists with songs that specifically help you through particularly difficult times or when pain is especially severe, and you need to calm it and your state of mind.

Personally, nothing gives my mood a lift like a little Billy Holiday, Dusty Springfield or Aretha; if feeling frustrated, Chavela Vegas (anger’s better in Spanish). More recently, Mozart’s been on repeat. I love music. (Almost) every genre. Find what you love. Play it. See if it helps you cope, lifts your mood, or offers a momentary sonic escape from the complexities that come with pain and chronic illness.

Scientists now know that listening to music involves a huge portion of the brain — auditory areas, of course, but also motor (movement) areas, the limbic system (involved in emotions), and areas of the brain believed to be responsible for increased creative thought.

Anything that lights up areas in the brain other than pain may also be helpful to reduce that pain.  ((Sidenote from Christy: this reminds me of some of the really cool resources I’ve linked to from Neil Pearson!)).

These effects may not be powerful enough in isolation but added to your pain management toolkit, using music when you are feeling frustrated or sad, depressed or angry, lost or alone, all can help you cope, feel better emotionally, and even lessen a tiny bit of pain.

A study conducted by Peter Vuust, of the Center for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience (CFIN) at Aarhus University, Denmark, found that fibromyalgia patients experienced less chronic pain after listening to their favourite music.

Additionally, recent studies on music therapy and chronic pain conditions found that music reduces anxiety, depression and pain— just from listening to music.

The effect is often referred to as ‘music-induced analgesia‘, and though that analgesia may be more subtle than profound, anything that helps you must be embraced.”

Some additional links:

Science Nordic: Music can relieve chronic pain

The Conversation: How music can relieve chronic pain

BBC News: How music can reduce chronic pain

Prevention.com: More music, less pain?

Study: Emotional valence contributes to music-induced analgesia

Body in Mind: Music modulation of pain perception

And for more from Jo:

Jo Malby is an amazing writer living with and sharing her experience of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) on her site The Princess in the Tower.

She also runs the site Inspire Portal, where she shares resources to provide creative inspiration to writers (and other artists!).

Definitely check out more of what she has to say!


One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard…

Once in a while I post things unrelated to the main topic of my blog, simply because they are amazing. Here is one of them.

I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch recently, which is why I haven’t been posting too much. Music is one of the things that helps me get through those times, and I’m so excited I discovered this band.

I don’t know how reliable Youtube comments are, but I read one comment that explained this song is about Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, two wartime photographers who fell in love and covered the globe together in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  They risked their lives to document different wars across the globe until Taro was killed in a freak accident.  The song is written from Capa’s viewpoint as he dies and goes to heaven, to be reunited with Taro.

Hope you enjoy this song as much as I do!


Inspiration: Marina and the Diamonds

When I was younger, I did a lot of memoir-type creative writing.  It helped me process a lot of the things I went through as a teen, and at first I thought maybe it could help others to read it.

As time went on and I got older, I started to feel like maybe no one would want to read it after all.  The experiences I had written pages and pages about, things that had seemed like such a big deal at the time, started to seem trivial.  So I put the writing aside.

When I listen to Marina’s music, I hear a lot of the same themes that I’d tried to touch upon in my writing.  Things I’d worried weren’t “deep” or “universal” enough are reflected in her music.  She takes these same topics that I was afraid to write about, and turns them into something beautiful that has reached thousands of people.

Marina inspires me to keep moving forwards, to keep writing, and to stop judging myself so harshly.  When I listen to her music, I am reminded that my experiences may have been more universal than I had previously thought.

The other song by Marina that you have to check out is Teen Idle.   This song reminds me so much of my own adolescence, it hurts.  But it’s so beautiful.

Chronic Pain, Favorites, Interesting Articles, Pain Science

Violins and enhanced sensory maps

violin player

I recently learned about a fascinating study that I had to share with you all.  Researchers took two groups of people– professional violinists and regular, everyday people off the street– and pricked everyone’s index finger with a pin.  The violinists reported feeling much more pain than the non-violinists, even though everyone’s finger was pricked in the exact same way.

I thought this was so interesting.  This article on Optimum Sports Performance sums it up quite well (scroll down to the “Influence Psychology” section.  The author writes, “The enhanced sensory map and awareness of their hands that a professional violinist has makes them hypervigilant to anything that may be remotely threatening.”

I love this phrase “enhanced sensory map.”  They say practice makes perfect– well, all those hours and hours of practicing has given that violinist a very well-developed communication pathway between hand, spinal cord, and brain.  He or she is simply better at sensing what is going on in his or her hands.  Most of the time, that’s a good thing– it’s where the artistry comes from– but it’s not good when something is going wrong in that part of the body.

We are conditioned to think that “better” means tougher.  Practice is supposed to make us “stronger.”  We revere athletes for their ability to keep going despite pain.  We think only beginners and those who are not strong would let pain stop them.

In reality, it’s the “best” violinists who have the most awareness of their hands.  The more time a violinist has spent practicing, the better a musician he or she probably is- and the more sensitive he or she is going to be to an injury to the fingers.

I think that’s the reason I loved this study so much.  I’m so tired of the notion that pain somehow means you are weak, or a novice.  In the case of this study, it’s the seasoned individuals who have truly mastered a discipline who are the most likely to react strongly to the pain.


This ability of our nervous systems to become better at the things we practice allows us to develop talent and mastery.  It also, unfortunately, allows us the ability to develop chronic pain.

When you go through a prolonged, painful physical event, it’s as if you’re giving your nervous system the chance to “practice” sending and receiving pain signals.  It responds by getting “better” at feeling pain.  This is what causes chronic pain– you end up feeling pain more easily, and have a lower pain threshold, than you did before.

I would like people to stop thinking of chronic pain as something that happens to those who are “lesser,” or as something that is outside of the realm of normal human experience.  Chronic pain is simply the other side of the coin that talent and mastery are on.

violin on side cropped

**I really hate the fact that I couldn’t provide an official citation for this study, but no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find one.  I believe the study was headed by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley, but I don’t know the year, or which institution they were affiliated with at the time.  They reference it in their book Explain Pain, as well as in various interviews I’ve watched online.  Sorry… I hate when people don’t cite things.  If you know anything more about where to find this study, please don’t hesitate to let me know!



It’s time I come clear about something: I am a huge Shakira fan. I don’t normally get terribly excited about pop music, but I just think that Shakira is an amazing performer. No one else has her rhythm and sense of style.

One of the things that’s helped me to get through the past few years is to cultivate a sense of awe and appreciation for the human body. One way to do this is to learn about the body and all of its million moving parts that all work together in a delicate dance. The other way is to watch someone do something truly amazing with their body; something that takes your breath away, that is beyond words.  You don’t have to know the names of all of the abdominal muscles to admire the masterful control Shakira has over hers (though it’s definitely interesting when you stop to consider how exactly she gets her hips to move like that!)

It’s hard to put into words, but what I admire about someone like Shakira is that she provides us with a snapshot of the amazing things the human body can do.  It’s not about being jealous, or needing to be able to dance like that myself.  Life isn’t fair; we all rise and fall, and someday even Shakira will be old and gray.  It’s about recognizing a moment in time when someone shows us the heights of what the human body is capable of.

P.S. I know I’ll probably never be able to dance like Shakira, but that doesn’t mean I can’t practice in front of a mirror when I’m home alone.  It’s fun, and it’s also a really great ab workout!

Chronic Pain

Listen to music in the morning. Let yourself dance.

Find some great music.

I love having music on in the background while I’m doing routine things like eating breakfast and getting dressed.  I find the combination of music and a mild caffeine buzz puts me in a good mood, and it’s a great way to distract yourself from any pain you might be feeling so that you move normally instead of tensing up.

I think it helps to have music that you’re really excited about, and to explore new music often to keep yourself mentally and emotionally charged.   The more into the music you are, the more likely it is to distract you from the pain.

For that reason, I say listen to whatever genre of music you want.  Don’t feel like you have to stick to “relaxation” or “healing” music to try to get through your pain.  If you want to listen to heavy metal first thing in the morning, that’s fine.  Whatever resonates with you and matches your mood is probably best.  Personally, I tend to alternate between pop music, club music, and dubstep for my morning wake-up music, but I sometimes listen to angry alternative rock.  Don’t feel silly about your choices– different things resonate with different people.   If you like it, turn it up (as loud as you can at 8 am, anyway).

Let yourself move to the music. 

It’s okay if all you can do is nod your head a little bit, or tap your feet, or snap your fingers.  Just let your body feel the music.  It’s a great way to ease yourself into moving your body in a relaxed way, without over-thinking it.

When we’re in pain, we tend to hold our bodies in a very rigid way, as if we are trying to protect ourselves.  Walking around with a stiff, rigid posture usually backfires and causes us to end up in more pain, because we are tensing our muscles up all day long.  For me, the combination of a mild caffeine buzz, music I love, and the joy of having a few extra minutes at home in the morning is the perfect combination to start to enjoy moving again.  If I’m paying attention to the music, I’m paying less attention to my pain.  Make yourself a playlist that you freakin’ love and let your body move however it wants.

Where to find good music?

  • There are basically zero listenable FM radio stations where I live, so I find a lot of new music through Youtube.  You can sign up to make a free account and then save music videos to your own personal playlist.  This is a great way to have new music at your fingertips on a daily basis.  I make different playlists based by genre, so I can easily find music that fits my mood.
  • Pandora is also a great option.  You just tell it one artist or band that you like, and it will play songs by similar artists.

To my readers, what kind of music do you like to start your day with?  I’m always looking for new suggestions!

For more of my tips on dealing with mornings, check out:

Chronic Pain

Start out slowly. It’s normal to be stiff in the morning.

If you have any kind of injury, muscle strain, or chronic pain, don’t be surprised if you wake up in more pain than you were in when you went to bed.  Everyone is a little bit more stiff in the morning from lying still all night long.  You just might not notice it until you have some kind of pulled muscle or other issue that’s causing pain and inflammation.

To top things off, the discomfort of morning aches and pains is going to be magnified if you have a heightened sensitivity to pain, which sometimes happens to people who have been through a traumatic physical experience.  (I’ve written more on that here).  When you combine these two things, the first few hours of the day can be excruciating.

If you notice increased pain and stiffness in the morning, I suggest you plan your days to leave yourself extra time in the morning.  I know this is sometimes easier said than done, but it really can make all the difference in affecting the overall quality of your day.

If you have time to go through the movements of getting ready for the day at a gradual pace, it will help you to slowly loosen up.  Little movements, like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and making breakfast will all help warm your muscles up and flush out any extra fluid that’s built up overnight.

You might find that there are certain things you can’t do when you first wake up, like bending down and pick something up off the floor, or reaching a mug on the highest shelf in the kitchen.  But if you keep getting ready for the day with small, gentle movements, you might find that after half an hour, some of your flexibility has returned.

In comparison, if you try to rush your body through motions that it’s not quite ready to perform, you’ll just be yanking on those stiff muscles and your nervous system will let you know that it is not pleased.  You might technically be ready to leave the house sooner, but you will be experiencing a lot more pain and discomfort than if you had just taken your time.  Trust me; there have definitely been times when I’ve chosen to sleep in instead of getting up early enough to take my time to get ready.  The first few hours of those days ended up being miserable.