Why Music is Useful in the Operating Theatre

Music lifts the mood and keeps you awake. This is another reason why more and more surgeons are listening to music during surgery. Jazz and classical music not only help doctors, but also reduce patient fears.

“Music cleans and heals the soul,” Aristotle already knew. And for about two centuries it has been used seriously to support the therapy of physical and mental ailments. But now a new field of medicine is increasingly opening up for them, namely the operating theatre. According to a recent review study in the British Medical Journal (“BMJ”), patients and surgeons alike benefit when they immerse themselves in the world of sound – provided it is the right world.

Evan Kane is well known among surgeons. He was the first surgeon to operate on his own appendix. Apart from the fact that he only worked with local anaesthesia – because otherwise he would not have been able to operate – he is known to use his scalpel to the sounds of classical music. For the doctor from Pennsylvania, it was clear that hardly anything was better suited”to calm the patient and distract him from the horror of his situation”.

Almost 100 years have passed since this hasardeur-like operation, and the situation in the operating theatre is not quite as archaic for the patients as it was then. But music still plays an important role for surgeons today, and seems to become even more important.

Surgical archivist David Bosanquet from the University Hospital in Wales estimates that two out of three operating theatres now regularly play music. This is certainly also due to the fact that one no longer has to laboriously align the antenna or find a place for the large ghetto blaster, but only needs a smartphone and a Bluetooth box to make an operation into a desired concert.

Studies prove a benefit

It’s also because it actually helps. Together with other researchers, Bosanquet has prepared a review of the topic for the “BMJ”. His summary: “Meanwhile, several studies have proven the benefits of music in a surgical intervention”.

Swedish researchers investigated whether music or a proven benzodiazepine is better suited to immobilize patients prior to surgery and actual anesthesia. The result: not only before but also after the intervention, the music test subjects showed significantly lower values on a scale for measuring their anxiety. In addition, according to the authors of the study, “music has fewer side effects than a benzodiazepine”. And that is why it is the far better alternative.

Music helps against fears

In another study, music proved to be an effective means of relieving patients who had to be ventilated after surgery of their fears of suffocation. “It also helps to save opioids,” adds Bosanquet. Although it can never completely replace the famous pain relievers, according to the surgical expert,”it causes fewer side effects and costs, and it can be switched on and off again at any time if necessary.

However, it obviously plays a role what music is played – and who chooses it. The Maria Hilf clinics in Mönchengladbach examined the condition of 200 patients whose heart catheter examination was accompanied by music. One hundred of them were allowed to choose the titles themselves, in the other half they were chosen by the doctors.

Jazz and classical music as medicine

The result: although blood pressure and heart rate dropped in all subjects, they did so most in those patients whose music had been selected by the doctors. And this effect was most evident in jazz and classical music – regardless of whether the patients liked these music styles or not.

So it’s better if the doctors choose the titles and not the patient. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are better able to assess how music affects the person to be operated on. It could also be that even when listening to their favourite melodies they radiate more serenity and work better – and this results in less stress for their patients.

Music as a stimulant

Bosanquet also emphasizes the positive effects of the music on the surgical team:”It eliminates fatigue and reduces stress. It also helps the surgeon to focus. Especially when he hears a lot of music. This guarantees that he generally feels comfortable listening to music – and those who feel comfortable are known to work better.

The question remains as to which music should best be used in an operation. For Bosanquet there are no restrictions in principle, but titles like “Everybody Hurts” by REM or “Scar Tissue” by Hot Chili Peppers should be avoided as far as possible, because their text fosters the patient’s fears. That’s why it’s best to go straight to titles without words, of which there are naturally more in jazz and classical music.

Even more important than the style is the volume of the music. Sound measurements have shown that there is often a level of noise in the operating theatre close to a running lawnmower, and when the scalpels and clamps crash into the metal bowls, it can even become as loud as when a truck is passing by. Even tearing open a package of sterile dressings can reach the 90 decibels that are considered potentially harmful in the short term.

Those who still try to put the music on top of it get into sound dimensions that do neither the patient nor the doctor any good and also disturb the vital communication with the anaesthetist. Bosanquet therefore advises not to lose sight of the overall sound level:”Because in every theatre you need the most harmonious consensus possible, and that also applies to the operating theatre.