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Managing Migraine With Music & Dance

I want music to be like food. A water or wine.” Chinese opera singer Shenyang (whose voice is amazing) describes music as a necessity. It certainly has been in my tangles with migraine. I honestly don’t know how I could have coped, particularly in the last eight years, without the joy music brings. (And I’m not alone in this.)

I’ve found that listening to music I love is more important than choosing a genre typically thought of as relaxing. My all-time comfort album is the first disc of Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds playing a live acoustic show. That’s when the migraines are really bad. Most of the time I listen to hippie jam bands and afrobeat/funk/soul − anything that gets my head bobbing or hips swaying.

This may sound crazy considering that a primary characteristic of migraine is that movement worsens pain. Sometimes “dancing” is almost imperceptible foot tapping, other times even that is impossible. When I dance, especially at live shows, I let go of myself and my self-consciousness completely. That release is therapeutic even in memory. When I dance at home, in the car or in my mind during a migraine, my body remembers that freedom and loosens up.

Dancing with Pain blogger Loolwa Khazzoom believes so strongly in the power of dance as a chronic pain therapy that she teaches classes in it. What about you? Have you found dancing or listening to music to be effective in managing migraine?

I was going to include a photo of me dancing at a Phish show last summer. I share so much on this blog, but the picture of me lost in music is just too intimate.

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Treating Depression With Music Therapy (and Lifting a Funk With the Dave Matthews Band)

guitar music therapy depressionI was in a horrible mood the day before I emerged from hibernation. Disgruntled, “a state of sulky dissatisfaction,” according to the Visual Thesaurus, is too mild a word, but combined with gloom and self-hatred it paints the picture. I made it through the day OK, but was out of my mind by evening. Hart had a work dinner, so he wasn’t around to break me out of my funk.

I considered turning music on, but craved silence. When my mood hadn’t lifted by 8:30 p.m., I was willing to try anything to break free from my self-imposed cage. Perhaps the Dave Matthews Band could cheer me up.

A smile blossomed as soon as I hit play. Duh, Dave Matthews and the Dave Matthews Band have never failed to make me happy. Except when I need to wallow in bleak lyrics and feel sorry for myself. Actually, I feel better after listening to them then, too.

Recent research indicates that music can be an effective depression treatment. The study was of listening to or creating music with trained music therapists, not simply turning on your iPod. Still, the power and potential of music is undeniable.

The finding that music therapy offers a real clinical benefit to depression sufferers comes from a review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a not-for-profit group that reviews health care issues. Although there aren’t many credible studies of music therapy for depression, the reviewers found five randomized trials that studied the effects of music therapy. Some studies looked at the effects of providing music therapy to patients who were receiving drug treatment for depression. Others compared music therapy to traditional talk therapy. In four out of five of the trials, music therapy worked better at easing depression symptoms than therapies that did not employ music, the researchers found.

Two findings really jumped out at me: Music therapy is appealing to many people who aren’t interested in conventional depression treatments, like teenagers. Also, people less likely to drop out of music therapy than other therapies.

My only question is if playing Rock Band qualifies as making music.

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Discombobulated After Seeing Naturopath

Yesterday started off with a wonderful yoga class, followed by a fall-off-the-edge downturn. I saw (yet another) naturopath yesterday.

The main selling point of alternative and complementary medicine is treating the “whole person” instead of the illness. I’ve never wanted so much to be a collection of symptoms.

The best question of the visit: What was your life like when your headaches turned chronic? Gee, I was in junior high/early high school. It was obviously the happiest, most well-adjusted time of my life. HA!

How did I deal with the stress at that time? Umm, I slammed doors and listened to loud music. How else do kids that age cope?

Then came the tears. I get it, OK? Crying is healthy. You can’t heal until you process every little part of your life to bits. Any questioning I’m resistant to indicates something I need to work through.

I’m usually an active participant in this. But my head hurt and I was exhausted. I wanted to go to bed, not talk about my deepest insecurities. Tears and sadness are the antithesis of migraine abortive.

It’s not even that I dwelled on the issues after the appointment. I just felt crappy and drained. My attention span was shot. Blogging, working on eBay listings and reading, all activities I’d been excited about earlier in the day, were out. Instead, I took comfort in garlic and basil gnocchi and a movie.

Today I stayed in bed for an hour after I woke up, but managed to gather myself up. I took a long bath, read and ruminated on this post. I was excited to get on with the day. Thirty minutes later, my head hurts and I’m dizzy and tired.

I’m going to go “home” for a while and add some Dave Matthews Band in for good measure. (Funny that part of my coping strategy of nearly 20 years ago has a similar component to my current methods.)

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Testing Music Therapy for Pain

In May, I blogged about study that indicated that listening to an hour of music a day can reduce the physical and psychological affects of chronic pain. Participants in the study who listened to music each day reported reduced pain levels up to 21%. They also had up to a 25% reduction in associated depression.

So I’ve been testing it out myself. I haven’t been strict about listening to an hour every day, but most days I know that I have music play for at least an hour and usually more. I’ve even expanded the artists I listen to. My loyalty is still primarily to Dave Matthews (acoustic with awesome guitarist Tim Reynolds, on his solo album, and solo on taped live shows) and the Dave Matthews Band, but I’ve also been listening to a new genre, Men With Husky Voices and Guitars: John Butler Trio, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.

Back to the point. My pain levels haven’t changed overall, but I feel less pain when music is playing than when it’s off. Just as books distract me from the pain, music lets my attention go elsewhere. And I can still get other things done while I’m engaging in this sort of therapy.

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Music as Medicine

Something as simple as listening to an hour of music a day can reduce the physical and psychological affects of chronic pain, according to a recently published study.

In addition to potentially reducing pain by up to 21 percent and depression by 25 percent, this therapy can help patients feel like they are in control of their pain and that they are less disabled.

This applies to all music, not just that specifically for relaxation. It makes sense. Listening to harp music an hour a day would make my hair stand on end, but I can never get enough Dave Matthews.

In fact, my Dave Matthews obsession is so strong that I almost never listen to anything else. I’m more than a bit embarrassed by this and have tried to become obsessed with other artists (which doesn’t work too well). What it comes down to is that his voice makes me smile. And what’s better than music that makes you happy?

So now I have a medical reason to listen to indulge for at least an hour a day (not like I needed one). I’m going to chart my pain levels for a while and see if there is a correlation. Let me know what you find if you try this with your favorite musicians.