Binaural Beats: Benefits for Chronic Pain Relief

Katarina Zulak
Written by
Katarina Zulak Chronic Warrior & Health Writer

Binaural beats are a type of sound wave therapy that can help to reduce pain and improve relaxation. “Bi” means two, and “aural” means ear. Binaural beats are an auditory illusion created by using stereo headphones to play two distinct tones (sound wave frequencies), one in each ear. As the brain attempts to synchronize the two tones, it creates a third tone, an illusion, which is the difference between the two frequencies.

 For example, if the left ear hears a tone at 320 Hz (measured in hertz, or sound-wave vibrations per second) and the right ear hears a 324 Hz tone, then the difference of 4 Hz is generated in the brain as a third tone. The imaginary 4 Hz tone created in the brain is called a binaural beat. It is an attempt by your brain to reconcile the different tones heard in each ear, and to synchronize the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

How Sound Waves Change Brain Waves

Binaural beat sound waves are believed to induce brain waves at the same frequency, altering brain activity, and your state of mind. In order to understand how this works, we first have to learn more about brain waves, which are patterns of electrical activity in the brain. Brain waves are caused by brain cells, called neurons, firing electrical signals. They are also measured in Hz (vibrations per second), using an EEG. 

Brain waves occur at different frequencies, which correlate with  different levels of brain activity. For example, slow brain waves are associated with sleep, while faster waves represent mental alertness. 

  • Delta brain waves (1 to 4 Hz): deep, dreamless sleep
  • Theta brain waves (4 to 8 Hz): deep relaxation, hypnotic state, drifting off to sleep, REM dream sleep
  • Alpha brain waves (8 to 13 Hz): mindfulness, meditative state, relaxation, creativity
  • Beta brain waves (13 to 30 Hz): normal waking consciousness, concentration, alertness, anxiety
  • Gamma brain waves (30 to 70 Hz): increased mental activity, intense concentration, moments of intuition

Binaural beats are therapeutic because their sound wave frequency can induce the same brain wave frequency, encouraging the state of mind associated with that brainwave pattern. For example, a binaural beat of 6 Hz will induce brain waves of 6 Hz, which are theta brain waves (4 to 8 Hz). Theta waves make you feel deeply relaxed, as if you were drifting off to sleep.

How Binaural Beats Help Relieve Pain, According To Science

Binaural beats that induce theta brain waves can help to reduce perceived pain intensity, as well as anxiety and pain medication use. In one placebo-controlled study, participants listened daily to a 20 minute recording a 6 Hz binaural beat, inducing theta brain waves. A second control group listened to a sham recording. After two weeks, the binaural beat group had a 77% drop in perceived pain severity compared to the sham group (Zampi, 2016).

A similar study, using a 5 Hz binaural beat, confirmed using an EEG that a theta brainwave state was induced when participants listened to the binaural recording. Participants then listened to the binaural beats recording for 30 minutes daily for one week. Compared to the sham group, the binaural beat group experienced a significant reduction in stress, pain medication use, and perceived pain intensity (Gkolias, 2020).

Preliminary research indicates that using binaural beats to induce theta or delta brain waves can reduce anxiety and improve overall wellbeing (Le Scouarnec, 2001; Wahbeh et al., 2007). The quality of your sleep may also increase, according to pilot studies (Abeln et al., 2014). 

We know that pain is worsened by stress, depression or anxiety, and insomnia. More research needs to be conducted in order to understand how binaural beats relieve pain, what frequency works best, and how long listening sessions should be. For now, scientists theorize that, like meditation, binaural beats may decrease pain by promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety and deepening sleep. 

How To Use Binaural Beats For Pain Relief

Choose the binaural beat frequency associated with the mental state you are hoping to benefit from:

  • Delta waves (1-4 Hz) to help combat insomnia
  • Theta wave for pain relief (4-8) because deep relaxation equals lower pain levels
  • Alpha waves may support meditation, or calm wakefulness. 

While resting, listen for 20 to 30 minutes daily to a binaural beats recording within your desired frequency interval. To access some Binaural Beats check our program and the Quick Relief Tools section on our app. Download our app for apple devices and or for android devices. Binaural beats represent a safe, affordable tool in your pain relieving toolbox, so, happy listening!

References

Katarina Zulak
Written by
Katarina Zulak Chronic Warrior & Health Writer

I am a health blogger, health writer and all-around health nerd. Eight years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and endometriosis. On my health journey, I’ve learned the power of self-care skills to improve my health and wellbeing. As a writer I am excited to educate and inspire others to be skillfully well, even if they have a chronic condition. From medication to meditation, I started learning that living skillfully improved my wellbeing in all dimensions (mind, body and spirit). It also increased my agency again – the capacity to achieve change in my own life. My focus shifted from being a career-focused humanitarian to a self-care and wellbeing advocate in my own life, and the lives of others who live with chronic pain and illness. Read more at skillfullywell.com Instagram @skillfullywell Facebook @akatarinaz  Pinterest @akatarinaz

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