“There’s Healing in Music”: Veteran Perceptions of Music Interventions for Their Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain


  • Claire Whalen Indiana University School of Medicine https://orcid.org/0009-0002-2701-1490
  • K. Maya Story Center for Health Information and Communication, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center
  • Matthew J. Bair, MS, MD Indiana University School of Medicine; Center for Health Information and Communication, Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center; Regenstrief Institute




Background/Objective: For veterans suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain, finding alternative treatments to analgesics is critical for safer, more effective pain management. While music interventions have shown promise for acute pain, their acceptability for chronic pain and telehealth delivery needs more rigorous examination.

Methods: The Feasibility and Acceptability of Music Imagery and Listening Interventions for Analgesia (FAMILIA) study randomized 60 veterans with chronic musculoskeletal pain to receive usual care, telehealth music listening (ML), or telehealth music imagery (MI). ML involved independent listening to songs of each participant’s choosing, while MI consisted of one-on-one music therapist-led sessions combining ML, imagery, and verbal processing. To complement quantitative analysis of patient-reported outcomes, qualitative interviews of participants were conducted to understand perceived benefits, acceptability, barriers, and facilitators of study interventions. We analyzed 15 interviews using thematic analysis to assess acceptability of the music interventions.


Results: All interviewees perceived mental-emotional benefits and almost all experienced physical pain relief during their music listening or therapy sessions. However, many noted that the pain relief was short term, and for some veterans randomized to ML, certain songs evoked negative associations. Participants also benefited from study participation and its formal structure, in contrast to their prior informal music listening experiences. Planned study activities like participant check-ins with staff and interactions with therapists fostered a deeper understanding of how music can be therapeutic and increased veterans’ confidence in their own ability to use music therapeutically. Study acceptability was further evidenced by interviewees’ intention to continue using music listening and imagery techniques after study completion and their strong support for expanding access to music interventions to other veterans.

Conclusion/Implications:  The FAMILIA study not only supports telehealth music interventions as acceptable treatments for chronic musculoskeletal pain, but the reported physical pain and mental-emotional benefits necessitate a larger, fully powered study.