Following a concussion, athletes can struggle with managing stress. And as we know, stress can accumulate. When it does, concussed individuals may not be able to handle it as well as non-concussed individuals.
Music is an intervention that is well-known to relieve stress. The nice thing about music is that it is accessible and low-cost. Most athletes, if not all, are already listening to music in their everyday lives.
But can music help relieve stress in concussed athletes?
Recent Research on Musical Intervention in Concussed Athletes
Researchers from Canada sought to determine if musical intervention could decrease stress after a stressful event in concussed and non-concussed athletes.
Their study included 84 elite/high-level athletes between ages 18 and 35 years. In concussed athletes, the concussion had to have occurred at least three months prior to participation in the study.
As part of this experiment, researchers had participants undergo a stressful event – give a 5-minute filmed speech with only three minutes to prepare, followed by five minutes of mental arithmetic tests.
Following the stressful event, participants underwent a 10-minute recovery period with or without musical intervention. The musical intervention consisted of relaxing, pleasant, and low-tempo classical music. Those who did not get the musical intervention had to sit in silence.
So there were four groups as part of this study: 1) concussed with musical intervention, 2) concussed without musical intervention (i.e., silence), 3) non-concussed with musical intervention, 4) non-concussed without musical intervention (i.e., silence).
Participants were asked to rate their stress on a scale of 0 (no stress) to 100 (severe stress) at baseline, right after the stressful event, and at 10, 20, and 30 minutes post-stressful event. Researchers also measured stress via skin conductance level. (This is a physiological measure of stress. Think greater skin conductance equals more sweat which equals higher stress.)
As expected, researchers were able to induce stress via the experiment. The musical intervention group (both concussed and non-concussed) was better able to recover compared to the silence group.
Concussed athletes did not report higher stress levels during the experiment compared to non-concussed athletes. Concussed athletes with musical intervention did not have different stress levels compared to non-concussed athletes with musical intervention.
Concussed athletes in the silence group recovered slower than non-concussed athletes in the silence group. In other words, stress levels measured via skin conductance of concussed athletes without musical intervention remained elevated during the recovery period.
The results support previous literature that shows 1) athletes with previous concussion have altered physiological stress regulation; and 2) music may be an effective intervention for stress reduction. Taken together, music may help reduce stress levels after a stressful event in concussed athletes.
Limitations of the Research
There are a few limitations of this research that are worth mentioning. First, the sample size was small which makes comparison across four groups challenging. A larger sample size would allow for more accurate assumptions to be drawn from the study findings. A larger sample size would also create more comparable groups. Randomization of athletes into the musical intervention group or not would be a more robust design and could also create more comparable groups.
In conclusion, this was a unique and interesting study on the effects of relaxing music following a stressful event in concussed athletes. These preliminary results show that music may reduce stress levels in concussed athletes. Future research will lead to further discovery of the effect of music on stress relief post-concussion.
Léonard C, Desaulniers-Simon JM, Tat D, De Beaumont L, Gosselin N. Effects of Music Intervention on Stress in Concussed and Non-Concussed Athletes. Brain Sci. 2021;11(11):1501. Published 2021 Nov 12. doi:10.3390/brainsci11111501