Can Music Therapy Help People with MS?
Last updated: July 2021
Traditional medicines can slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS) in some cases. But because there is no cure, people living with MS often seek out alternative therapies.1 These are typically used alongside traditional therapies. Alternative therapies for MS include herbs or dietary supplements and yoga, but music therapy is gaining interest too.2
Music therapy involves the use of music by a professional to achieve your specific goals. Music therapy interventions can help people with MS:3
- Manage stress
- Relieve pain
- Express feelings
- Improve memory
- Improve communication
- Enhance movement and coordination
How does music therapy help MS?
It is important to remember that no single therapy can reverse the symptoms of MS or offer a cure. But when used alongside traditional therapies, music therapy can offer some benefits.4 Researchers are not sure exactly how music therapy works. It likely has multiple mechanisms tied to different benefits. But studies show that it can help to improve the physical and emotional symptoms of MS.5,6
What the research shows
Stress, pain, and feelings
Moods can be enhanced by music. It can also relax the mind and body. This in turn can help people with MS to manage stress, experience less pain, or express feelings.4,6 Compared to those who use only traditional cognitive therapy for MS, those who also use music therapy see bigger improvements in their moods and quality of life.7
Musical memory devices can help with verbal learning and short-term memory in MS. One study found that people with MS had better speech and order memory under musical conditions compared to spoken ones. This may be because of the timed structure of music. Hearing music may influence the rhythmic, repetitive electrical activity generated by the brain.8
Even when people with MS have trouble speaking, words sometimes come more easily in the form of song. Singing also provides therapeutic support for breathing and pronunciation, and the timing needed for speech.4,9
Enhanced movement and coordination
We may not be consciously aware, but our movements require planning and order. Matching repetitive actions like tapping your foot to rhythms or beats can help with coordination, concentration, and endurance.4 Hand dexterity also improved in a study of people who played on a keyboard for just 30 minutes a day for 2 weeks.10 And studies using dance found that participants had better gait, mobility, and balance.6
How to find a music therapist
Some people with MS can benefit from self-directed healing using music therapy. But others may choose to use a music therapist. Trained music therapists can help identify goals and match therapies. If you or someone you care for is interested in music therapy, talk to your doctor. If they do not know who to refer you to, try searching your area using the Find A Therapist page of the Certification Board for Music Therapists.11
'Beat the Heat' Spotify playlist
We asked you, our community members, if MS had a summer Beat the Heat Playlist, what would it look like? Well, here it is! Enjoy and remember to stay cool!
Have any of the following helped to reduce your pain? Select all that apply.