Health Team

Music instead of painkillers? Duke doctor prescribes tunes for some patients

Posted October 27, 2017 10:38 a.m. EDT
Updated November 2, 2017 10:58 a.m. EDT

— Addiction to opioid pain medications is a growing problem in the United States.

Addiction often occurs while patients are taking painkillers to deal with chronic back pain or are recovering from spinal surgery. Now, a program at Duke University offers a drug-free option that helps many patients better cope with pain.

Pat Cusak, 71, led an active life back home at Holden Beach until two years ago when he first started feeling lower back pain.

"It was affecting my ability to get out on the beach," Cusak said. "I'm an avid golfer, two days a week at least, normally, and it was starting to affect that."

Conservative treatments weren't working, so he turned to Duke orthopedic surgeons who prepared to fuse two bones of his lower spine.

Pain medications help with post-operative pain, but there's always the risk of becoming dependent on pain killers, which is why Duke geriatrician Dr. Neema Sharda offered Cusak a different kind of pain control: music.

"Research has shown that music, played perioperatively—so, pre-, during or post-operatively—does reduce the perception of pain or anxiety," Sharda said.

Sharda said patients' favorite music is loaded onto devices, like iPods, and they can listen during their procedures.

Of course, musical tastes vary. Cusak said he likes Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. But Sharda said there are other requests.

"We've had quite a few country music requests," Sharda said. "Country music and gospel."

Cusak is now a believer in music's ability to distract the mind from pain and offer real relief.

"The music just helped me to lose contact with the pain and just float along," Cusak said. "Music is good therapy."