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28 March 2012, 06:33 | Updated: 28 March 2012, 06:45
Playing music to patients undergoing surgery reduces their anxiety and could improve healing, Oxford researchers have suggested.
Easy listening music and chart classics can lessen fear among patients who stay awake during surgery but require a local anaesthetic.
Experts at the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford analysed data from 96 patients split into two groups.
The first group was played music during their surgery while the second were operated on in the usual operating theatre environment.
Both groups included patients undergoing plastic surgery for trauma to their bodies as well as those having planned NHS reconstructive surgery.
Anxiety levels were measured through the patients' respiratory rate and asking them to rate their anxiety using an established scale.
Both measurements were first taken when the patient was on the operating table (just before the surgical procedure started) and, secondly, at the end of the operation (while the patient was still on the operating table).
The research, published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons, found the group played music scored around 29% less on anxiety levels and had an average of 11 breaths per minute versus 13 breaths per minute in the other group.
The research is the first to examine the effect of music on patients undergoing both planned and emergency surgical operations whilst awake.
Hazim Sadideen, a plastic surgical registrar who led the study, said: "Undergoing surgery can be a stressful experience for patients and finding ways of making them more comfortable should be our goal as clinicians.
"There are also good medical reasons - calmer patients may cope better with pain and recover quicker.
"This small-scale work is the first time an attempt has been made to measure the impact music has in this specific group of patients and hints at the need for bigger multi-centre research to establish whether this should become part of standard practice.''
Previous studies have found classical music may have the greatest health benefits for patients, especially the works of Bach, Mozart and Italian composers.
Most studies to date tend to have investigated the effects of music when played in the waiting room or endoscopy suite, with little work done on patients in the operating theatre when they are probably most anxious.
Anxiety before an operation can include feelings of tension and apprehension, today's research said.
This can have a physical effect, including promoting an inflammatory response which can prolong healing time.
The experts added: "Thus, from a physiological perspective, high preoperative anxiety levels in patients can result in both delayed wound healing and increased post-operative pain, potentially prolonging recovery time and the length of hospital stay.''