Relaxing music is just as effective as drugs for calming down patients before minor surgery, a study suggests.
The sedative midazolam is sometimes prescribed for NHS patients undergoing procedures involving local anaesthetic.
But a US clinical trial found that music may be just as good at calming nerves.
However, the patients using music did run into some difficulties – as they wore noise-cancelling headphones which meant they struggled to communicate with doctors.
The study involved patients having a type of regional anaesthetic – called a peripheral nerve block – used before treatments such as minor hand or ear surgery.
Writing in the journal Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, a team from the University of Pennsylvania said pre-operative anxiety is common and can raise levels of stress hormones in the body, which in turn can affect recovery after surgery.
Sedatives used to treat anxiety can have side-effects that affect breathing and blood flow and need monitoring, they said.
For their study, 157 adults were split into two groups, with the first receiving 1mg to 2mg of midazolam, injected three minutes before the use of a peripheral nerve block.
The second group listened to Marconi Union’s Weightless track via noise-cancelling headphones for three minutes. The Manchester trio’s ambient piece -composed with advice from sound therapists – is considered one of the world’s most relaxing songs. It’s said to be so calming that drivers are advised not to listen in the car.
Levels of anxiety were then scored. The result showed that patients in the music group had similar levels of anxiety to those on the drugs – suggesting music was as effective at calming nerves.
However, patients in the drug group were more satisfied with their overall experience. The researchers suggested this may be because patients could not choose the music.
Doctors and patients also thought it was easier to communicate without the music.
The team concluded: "Music medicine may be offered as an alternative to midazolam administration prior to peripheral regional anaesthesia.
"However, further studies are warranted to evaluate whether or not the type of music, as well as how it is delivered, offers advantages over midazolam that outweigh the increase in communication barriers."