It has long been known that music is therapeutic; it can soothe your anger, calm your anxiety, motivate your workout, or even set the mood for a romantic evening. But did you know that music can actually prompt healing? It doesn't really matter what kind of music, or even whether you like it or not, listening to music can be quite beneficial to your health. It is only recently that researchers are discovering the physiological substrates that help them understand just why music is so good for you.
Music therapy has been applied in a number of situations to promote mental health and well being, but new studies show that music itself has some healing power over the physical body as well. There are a number of applications for music as a treatment modality:
- Movement – Both stroke and Parkinson's patients may have difficulty initiating and maintaining movement, but listening to music has been shown to help patients with movement disorders increase their ability to move more freely. Scientists believe that because humans have an innate drive to 'foot- tap' when music is playing, that the rhythms of the music can help a person with bradykinesia (the inability to initiate movement) get beyond their frozen state and go with the flow. The tempo of the music also helps to regulate repetitive movements like walking.
- Improved Expressive Language – Even with impairments in spoken language, scientists find that stroke and dementia patients are often still able to sing. Emotive language and singing involve the right side of the brain as well as the left, where spoken language is processed for most people. Patients who undergo intensive therapy may be able to capitalize on their ability to sing by learning to first sing, and then to say the words to a specific song. Practice using this method may eventually help the person recover at least some of their ability to speak. The brain's plasticity accounts for this phenomenon; essentially the right hemisphere picks up the neurological slack that disease has caused in the left hemisphere.
- Vibroacoustic Therapy – At is most fundamental, music is vibration. Scientists are using low frequency sound to enhance mood and movement in patients with Parkinson's, fibromyalgia, and depression. They believe this works because sound waves are thought to synchronize dysfunctional neuronal pathways; a condition known as thalmocortical dysrhythmia. Actually applying vibrations to parts of the body appears to help regulate this dysfunction. Patients report improvement in movement, tremors, and rigidity.
While much research will be needed in order to fully understand and utilize the healing powers of music, there is a lot of promise in the ongoing research for people who suffer debilitating diseases and conditions to improve their quality of life simply by turning on some tunes. Who knows, perhaps your next prescription won't be a pill, but rather an hour-long session with your favorite musician. Consult with professionals, such as Alaska Natural Health Solutions, with any further questions.