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Discover How Soft Sounds Can Numb Pain: Insights from Mice Study

pain study man holding ear

Ever since 1960, when a group of dentists discovered that playing music during procedures reduced pain for patients, researchers have tried to determine how sound can alleviate pain. Now, a recent study involving mice is opening new doors for potential pain management in humans.

The Mice Experiment

A study published in July 2022 explains how an international team of neurobiologists conducted experiments with mice. The researchers exposed the mice for 20 minutes to three types of sound: white noise, pleasant symphonic music and an unpleasant arrangement of the same piece. The sounds were played at 50 or 60 decibels. The mice were injected with a painful solution in their paws, and the researchers assessed their responses by observing flinching, licking or withdrawing their paws.

The scientists found that only the lower volume of 50 decibels — equal to a whisper — numbed the pain for the mice, whereas louder music made them more sensitive to pain. The team discovered that the specific intensity level, not the type of sound, was crucial for pain relief.


Unveiling The Neural Connections

To understand the neural circuitry responsible for the pain-blunting effects of sound, the researchers traced connections between brain regions. They identified a pathway from the auditory cortex, responsible for sound processing, to the thalamus, a relay station for sensory signals, including pain.

Low-intensity white noise reduced the activity of neurons in the thalamus, indicating this pathway played a significant role in the pain reduction observed in the mice. The researchers now want to understand why low sounds create this unique pain-relieving effect.


Implications For Human Pain Relief

The study’s findings suggest that low-intensity sound may also have analgesic effects in humans. However, more research is needed to confirm this. In the meantime, there are several things that you can do to try to relieve pain with sound.

  • Listen to music. Music is one of the most effective ways to use sound to relieve pain. Choose music that you find relaxing and soothing.
  • Use white noise. White noise is a type of sound that contains all frequencies of sound at equal levels. It can be very effective at masking pain and helping you to relax.
  • Try binaural beats. A binaural beat is a sound effect created by playing two different tones, one in each ear. The brain interprets these tones as a third tone. This sound experience can affect the body in various ways, including alleviating pain.


Hearing Tests and Hearing Aids in Alberta

At Soundwave Hearing Care, we want you to enjoy the benefits of all the sounds the world has to offer. We offer tests to detect hearing loss and provide our customers with hearing aids that allow them to participate more fully in life. If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, contact us today to schedule an appointment with a Soundwave audiologist. We have locations in Calgary, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie and High River.

All the blogs are reviewed and edited by our clinic's lead audiologist, Dr. Anne Wooliams. Dr. Woolliams is an experienced audiologist specialized in pediatric audiology, auditory processing, and tinnitus/sound sensitivity therapy. She is dedicated to providing top-notch hearing care and helping her clients improve their language and communication abilities. Dr. Woolliams' expertise in literature and linguistics, combined with her passion for helping people improve their language and communication, make her an incredibly valuable asset in the field of audiology. Learn more about Dr. Woolliams.