Abstract ID: 3607

Primary Topic: State of the science/evidence base for integrative modalities

Music, the Brain, and Chronic Pain
Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.; Wen Chen, Ph.D., NCCIH/NIH, Bethesda, MD, United States; Sunil Iyengar, B.S., National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, United States; Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D., NCCIH/NIH, Bethesda, MD, United States; Mathieu Roy, Ph.D., McGill College, Montreal, QC, Canada; Joke Bradt , Ph.D., College of Nursing and Health Professions, Drexel University , Philadelphia, PA, United States

Late Breaker: No


Music can get us moving, lift our mood, and even help us recall a special moment or event, but can it be used to relieve pain and improve well-being?  This symposium will bring together some key players in the federal government and the research arena to present the latest scientific discoveries and governmental initiatives related to the possible interactions among music, the brain, and management of chronic pain.  Sunil Iyengar, Director of the Office of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts will provide a brief overview of the Federal Interagency Task Force on art based therapies and introduce the concept of music as a game changer for brain health and its capacity to manage difficult symptoms like chronic pain. Dr. Catherine Bushnell, Scientific Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH/NIH) intramural research program, will present state of the science research on neural circuits and brain mechanisms engaged in pain perception and treatment.  Dr. Mathieu Roy, behavioral and cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University, will discuss our current understanding of brain mechanisms involved in music perception and production, with an emphasis on music reward processing and overlap with neural mechanisms of pain perception. Dr. Joke Bradt, Associate Professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University, will describe some recent clinical research related to various forms of music therapy and their potential mechanisms of action for chronic pain management.  Finally, Dr. Emmeline Edwards, Director for the Division of Extramural Research at NCCIH/NIH and Dr. Wen Chen, Co-Chair of the “Music and Health” trans-NIH working group will describe the Sound Health Initiative, discuss ongoing NIH research initiatives, and highlight gaps and opportunities in basic/mechanistic and clinical research on music and health.


Music is universally enjoyed regardless of culture, language, gender, ethnicity, and race. While the importance of music on our daily lives and its positive impact on our health are widely recognized, systematic and rigorous scientific studies are still lacking. The utilization of music-based therapies as a complementary and integrative approach for chronic pain management and opioid misuse remains largely unexplored. 

In early 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the J. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts established the Sound Health initiative, a partnership initiated by Dr. Francis Collins and the renowned opera singer Renée Fleming. The goal of this initiative is to increase our understanding of how music affects health, with emphasis on the basic neuroscience of music and potential clinical applications. One of the first activities of the Sound Health initiative was the January 26-27, 2017 workshop “Music and the Brain: Research across the Lifespan”, held at the main NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. Neuroscientists, music therapists and supporters of biomedical research and the arts discussed basic and mechanistic ways that music affects the brain as well as the healing potential of music (or how music therapy can change, restore, or improve non-music behaviors).  On June 2-3, 2017, the Kennedy Center and the NIH, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, hosted Sound Health: Music and the Mind, a series of performances, lectures and hands-on workshops that brought leading researchers in the field and performers to explore the intersection of music and science. This proposed State-of-Science ICIMH symposium will expand on these previous efforts with a focus on the potential impact of music on chronic pain and pain management. 


Music has always been a topic of wide appeal and broad interest to the participants of the ICIMH meetings.  In the 2016 ICIMH meeting, an experiential workshop on music attracted a room-full of attendees, many of whom raised scientific questions about music and its impact on brain and health.  This proposed symposium will provide the ICIMH attendees and participants in-depth insight into the science of music and health and include the following objectives; 1) present the current and cutting-edge scientific research on pain, music, and music therapies; 2) discuss the gaps and research opportunities in the field of music and health and 3) encourage  dialogues and discussions about the potential impact of music on pain management.

Methods/Session Format

  1. Overview by Mr. Sunil Iyengar – 10 minutes
  2. Catherine Bushnell – 15 minutes of presentation and 3 minutes of Q&A
  3. Mathieu Roy -- 15 minutes of presentation and 3 minutes of Q&A
  4. Joke Bradt -- 15 minutes of presentation and 3 minutes of Q&A
  5. Emmeline Edwards -- 15 minutes of presentation and 3 minutes of Q&A
  6. Wen Chen – moderating general discussion, 8 minutes


  1. What is the current scientific evidence on how the human brain processes pain and manages the experience of chronic pain?
  2. What is the current scientific evidence on how the human brain processes and create music?
  3. Are there any common brain regions involved in pain experience and music experience?
  4. Can music therapy be used for chronic pain management?
  5. What are the research gaps and opportunities in the study of music, its health impact and connections to pain and pain management?