Figure relaxing with eyes closed and headphones on with music notes and a rainbow coming from the headphones

Music Therapy

During many years of ups and downs with rheumatoid arthritis, music has been a constant companion for providing comfort. I was fortunate to have parents who appreciated music and would share what they enjoyed with me.

Music therapy for RA pain

Lessons from my parents

I remember during a flare when I was a kid that my mom put on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and said that she found it hard to be sad when it was playing—particularly the part titled 'Ode to Joy'! When my pain acted up or I had the blues, I would put that on and close my eyes. Even lying on my bed, I could feel the aches in my bones. But if I kept breathing and listening, the joy would enter my heart and circulate through my veins. I learned that I could be happy while living with a painful disease. In fact, I could feel happy even while simultaneously feeling absolutely terrible.

After my joint replacement surgeries as a teenager, my bed was moved for a while to a room downstairs because I couldn’t manage the stairs. While I missed my own room, my father helped by putting on some of my favorite jazz music (Billie Holiday) when he came to wake me up and help me do my morning exercises. The recovery was long and hard, but this music helped to brighten my day and get me going.

Signifying special moments in life

Experiences with music: a youthful rite of passage

Looking back, I consider one of my youthful rites of passages to involve music. During my senior year of high school, I worked hard at my ongoing physical recovery from the joint replacement surgeries. I wanted to regain as much independence as possible because I was planning to go to college. In the spring, with graduation approaching, I went on a road trip with some close friends to go to my first real rock concert. We drove to Ohio to see the fun-loving Jimmy Buffet. It was my first trip on my own (outside of chaperoned school trips) and involved a couple nights staying in motels. I felt so grown up and accomplished! We had a great time at the concert and even some innocuous road trip adventures.

Enjoying live musical acts & concerts

As an adult, music continues to play an important role in my life. In my 20s, I enjoyed grimy bars that played grungy music. But I’ve also continued to love visiting jazz clubs and the occasional treat of a classical music concert. Even at home, music is special for me to put on and enjoy.

Music is also something my husband and I enjoy especially when we travel. We’ll wander a cruise ship to find and listen to our favorite acts (and purchase CDs to enjoy and remind us of a great trip when we’re back home). We like finding local acts or any music different than what we already know.

But perhaps most important are the classics. I previously wrote about when we went to concerts by The Who and Phil Collins. This fall, we are going to see Peter Frampton on his farewell tour (he recently announced he has Inclusion-Body Myositis thus, unfortunately, joining the inflammatory autoimmune condition community). Every song brings a little joy, reminds me of an important life lesson, or helps me to relax.

Music: more than just therapy

Music is more than therapy. It does so much! Music has helped me through difficult rehabilitation and physical therapy sessions. It’s lifted my spirits during a flare when I just have to lay down and not move. It’s helped me to dance even when I’m in pain. I can’t say I have specific prescriptions of music for certain emotions or situations. It’s more like listening inside and then finding music to match or patch.

Do others find music to be helpful for coping with rheumatoid arthritis? What music are you go-to’s and for what situations?

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