Guitar Hero

Most people associate Botox with society's endless pursuit of youth, but did you know that botulinum toxin, commonly known as Botox, is used to help relax the muscles of children and teens with spastic cerebral palsy (CP)? Since 2002, Nazareth College music therapy students have partnered with Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) on a clinical research study to see how music therapy can be used to relieve pain and distress in children with CP undergoing Botox injections.

Spasticity is the involuntary tightening of the muscles that happens in more than half the people diagnosed with CP. Botox injections relax the muscles for three to twelve months at a time allowing physical therapists to step in and help improve a child's mobility and strength. The downside to the injections is that they can be painful.

O.J. Sahler, M.D. and professor of pediatrics, psychiatry, medical humanities, and oncology, is heading up the study which finishes enrolling in spring 2011, with the help of clinical research associate and music therapist Rosemary Oliva Obi, M.S., LCAT, MT-BC '10G. Bryan Hunter, Ph.D., LCAT, MT-BC, chair and professor of music therapy in the creative arts therapy department at Nazareth, said music therapy students have done practica and internships for URMC clinical research studies since 1997. "It's been a rewarding collaboration," said Hunter. "Dr. Sahler is very interested in integrated medicine, and she's a researcher. Much of the research we've collaborated on has to do with using music therapy for symptom and pain management."

"We know that people are looking to more healthy lifestyles and are recognizing that diet, exercise, and relaxation are very important in maintaining health," said Dr. Sahler. "Many people want to use things outside of medication...We've really tried to use creative arts to help our patients and their families cope more successfully with various challenges."

For the Botox study, the music therapy students serve as research assistants providing both data collection and analysis. "It is vital to have students assist with this study," said Obi. A primary outcome of the study is to measure whether there is a decrease in crying time during the procedure. A typical Botox injection session can involve anywhere from two to eight injections. Before, during, and after the injections, Obi will play her guitar and sing to or with a child to help decrease pain and anxiety. "During the actual sessions, the students videotape the intervention for future analysis and calculation of the amount of time spent crying by the child. Preliminary analysis shows that there is a trend effect for the children to cry less when they receive music therapy during their injections than when they do not," explained Obi. Parents who filled out study surveys commented, "The music makes our Botox visits something our son actually looks forward to—despite the unpleasantness of the procedure,” and "Although my child was still crying through her procedure, the music did seem to help her ease through it."

While the students may feel gratitude for the hands-on experience at a world-class research institution like URMC, Dr. Sahler said she is the one who is thankful. "I really want people to understand how valuable the students have been to us. We have limited funding and resources...The students' volunteer time helps us to provide the service. We're very fortunate to have the association with Nazareth College and we wouldn't be able to have a successful program without them."