There is evidence that singing can be used to alleviate pain and can also be used therapeutically. Some of this evidence is reviewed by Deb Preachuk, a Chronic Pain Relief, Posture Restoration and Athletic Performance Enhancement professional, on her blog.
I have experimented with this myself and have found it effective in the past. There is no guarantee that it will work for you, so check with your doctor before trying therapeutic singing. I don’t know of any negative side effects from singing, but even a glass of water can be harmful to some, therefore it is best to consult with your medical authority about the information you read on the web.
On several occasions singing has been my therapeutic agent. On two incidents where I was feeling nausea, I was determined to avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome. I thought to myself that it would be impossible to eject stomach contents and sing at the same time, so I grabbed a Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal from my bookshelf and began singing at the top of my lungs. Sure enough, the nausea dissipated preventing the anticipated volcanic event.
Luckily, it is not often that I feel nauseated and so several years passed until the feeling recurred. This time I remembered the singing tactic and tried it again. The effect was the same, negative feelings dissipated and my spirit was uplifted by rhapsodic singing.
Recently, I had some tooth sensitivity pain and was not a happy camper. As I was driving home from work, I decided to try the singing tactic. I figured that It wouldn’t bother anyone else on the noisy highway and so I unleashed my voluminous vocals, with improvised comical lyrics. To my surprise the tooth pain vanished after about 5 minutes of singing. Several days later the same situation arose and again the singing trumped the pain after a few minutes. The pain has not returned since. Pain trumped and vanquished by singing . Go figure.
But surely, singing cannot be the solution to everyone’s pain. Some would never even consider singing while in pain. “Foolishness,” they say. This reminds me of a bible story where the commander of the Syrian army named Namaan is asked by the prophet Elisha to bathe in the Jordan river 7 times in order to be healed from leprosy. Namaan refused to perform this foolish act. However, his servant convinced him by reminding him that had more difficult and expensive tasks been required he would have happily complied. Namaan performs the simple tasks and is healed.
Many people would happily spend thousands of dollars on surgeries or expensive treatments that “make sense” rather than trying a simple approach that seems silly. But what have you to lose?
The healing power of singing may be magnified when performed in groups. Listen to the Virtual Choir orchestrated by Eric Whitacre and be inspired to sing for healing, rejuvenation and social bonding.
How Singing Does It
There are several mechanisms that may explain the healing and pain reducing effects of singing.
- Endorphins – Singing may trigger endorphins, the bodies natural painkillers. This is especially true if you are elated by singing. That is, singing songs you love or songs that bring back memories can trigger tears of joy or emotion. These tears can have a cleansing effect on the mind and the endorphins released can reduce the sensation of pain. Other similar activities that trigger endorphins are laughter and aerobics.
- Gate Control Theory – this theory is based on the idea that the nervous system can only process a certain amount of sensory data and that certain pathways when activated will, therefore, suppress other pathways. The theory was developed in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall. This theory is discussed by Kelley A. Lyons in a master’s thesis published in 1988.
- Relaxation – This concept is also discussed in Kelley A. Lyons’ master’s thesis. Relaxation reduces stress and allows the immune system to function better thus inducing healing.
- Vibration – The voice is a powerful source of energy for the body through vibration. Vibration may be essential for the function of the immune system just as movement is necessary to move lymphatic fluids. That is, vibration may serve as a natural pump for the body to allow the body to realign with healing.
What to Sing
Find songs that you can sing with gusto. Songs that inspire you. For example, many years ago I sang in a local Rhode Island quartet named the Kings’ Men, and we performed a version of “What a Mighty God We Serve” that allowed me to bellow out with full vocal majesty. Today I keep this song in my medical music file. Find songs that are meaningful to you and give them your all.