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The Wonderful Effects of Music on My RA

With a show of hands, or feet, or eyebrows, or whatever, who likes music? Me, me, me!!

I grew up in a house full of music. My parents met because of music. I begged to learn how to play music (piano) at a young age. Then I later started playing french horn. My parents both went to college to study music. I don’t remember a time while living at home that music wasn’t an important part of our lives.

Music, an important part of my life

On long car rides, my parents like to play a “game.” It basically went like this. One of them would pop a cassette tape into the boom box brought on the trip and ask questions. What’s this piece? Who’s the composer? What type of piece is it?

I liked being a part of the music

I secretly hated this game. I liked music mostly because I liked to perform it. My hands like the feel of the keys on a piano. My body likes the feel of air and sound vibrations flowing through it when playing the horn.

If I had performed the piece being quizzed, I had a chance of knowing the title. But too often I simply played pieces put in front of me and only focused on my part or on what I HEARD throughout the ensemble. Details of the title or composer got lost as I loved how it felt TO BE PART OF the music.

The role of dopamine in pain relief

For me, music is not a passive activity. Listening to music gets my brain going, gets my heart pumping (more slowly or quickly, depends), gets my breath moving, gets my “feel good” brain chemicals flowing.

How music affects the brain

An article published in Nature Neuroscience (2011) discusses the research behind listening to music and the release of dopamine that can induce pleasure.1 Part of the pleasure came from the anticipatory effect of knowing that listening to the music would be enjoyable.

The role of dopamine has been studied as a pain reducer in different conditions, such as fibromyalgia.2,3

Recent research has suggested that dopaminergic drugs may have a therapeutic effect in treating RA.4 The studies have been small and the research is in the early stages, but it’s very interesting nonetheless.

The effects of music on my RA

This brings me back to music and its effect on my RA. There are so many types of music that I enjoy listening to. There are other types of music I enjoy actually playing. Then, there are yet different types of music that I enjoy for how they support an activity I might be participating in.

Soothing music shifts my thoughts away from RA discomfort

I’ve read articles that suggest listening to “relaxing” or “soothing” music for its pain-reducing effect. For me, the more soothing the music is intended to be, in general, the more my mind has other places to focus, such as any pain or discomfort I might be feeling. Soothing music becomes anything but soothing to me.

Engaging my body with small movements that reduce stiffness

But put on a great recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 (Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell, specifically), and my brain becomes engaged.

I breathing more deeply. I bounce to the happy sounds of sleigh bells and sway to the long lyrical lines in the string sections. Then I can’t help but to keep beat with my feet, thighs, wrists, shoulders, hips, etc. In introspection, I realize that these small movements help me to reduce stiffness and that helps to reduce some of the pain of RA.

Appreciation for different types of music

The type of music that gets your body and mind engaged may be very different from what gets me going. And that’s just one reason why there can never be any universal recommendation for what music someone with RA should listen to for pain relief. We are such unique beings.

It’s not just classical music that works for me. Some of my other favorite albums include Ten Summoner’s Tales by Sting, Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You) by Arturo Sandoval (legendary trumpet player honoring a legendary trumpet player) and, absolutely, The Joshua Tree by U2.

I totally forget about the pain of RA when any of this music hits my ears. It just wakes up my soul.

Does music have any effect on your RA? If so, what’s your favorite type of music and why?

Please be well my friends,

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