Nonpharmacological interventions appear to benefit many patients and do not have the side effects commonly associated with medications. Music-based experiences may benefit critical care patients.


To examine the effect of an active music therapy intervention on physiological parameters and self-reported pain and anxiety levels of patients in the intensive care unit.


A study was conducted using a pretest-posttest, within-subject, single-group design. The study population consisted of a convenience sample of 52 patients. Study participants received a 30-minute music therapy session consisting of either a relaxation intervention or a “song choice” intervention. The music therapist recorded the patients’ vital signs before and after the intervention, and patients completed self-assessments of their pain and anxiety levels before and after the intervention.


After the intervention, significant decreases (all P < .001) were found in respiratory rate (mean difference, 3.7 [95% CI, 2.6–4.7] breaths per minute), heart rate (5.9 [4.0–7.8] beats per minute), and self-reported pain (1.2 [0.8–1.6] points) and anxiety levels (2.7 [2.2–3.3] points). No significant change in oxygen saturation level was observed. Outcomes differed between the 2 intervention groups: patients receiving the relaxation intervention often fell asleep.


The results of this study support active music therapy as a nonpharmacological intervention in intensive care units. This study may lay the groundwork for future research on music therapy in critical care units using larger, more diverse samples.

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