Researchers at Queen Mary University of London said the patients who had listened to music had been less anxious after their surgery and had needed less pain relief.
Writing in the Lancet, they said music had been effective even while patients had been under general anaesthetic.
The Department of Health said doctors should consider the findings.
The scientists want hospitals to suggest in NHS information leaflets that patients bring music devices and playlists into hospital with them.
The team reviewed 70 trials, involving about 7,000 patients around the time of surgery, comparing a wide variety of mostly “soothing” music with:
- undisturbed bed rest
- headphones with no music
- white noise
- routine care
While there was an effect on stress and pain, music did not reduce the length of hospital stays.
‘Safe and cheap’
The lead author, Dr Catherine Meads, said Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album had helped soothe her pain three hours after hip surgery in April.
Music was a safe, cheap and non-invasive option that should “be available to everyone having surgery”, she said.
“Currently music is not used routinely during surgery to help patients in their post-operative recovery.
“The lack of uptake is often down to the scepticism of professionals as to whether it genuinely works, and of course issues of budget and the integration into daily practice.”
Dr Meads added “it was quite a surprise” music had worked under general anaesthetic.
The researchers are following up this work with a study at the Royal London Hospital in the autumn.
About 40 women having either a Caesarean section or a hysteroscopy will be given the chance to have their playlist connected to a pillow with in-built loudspeakers.
Echoing the message from a study suggesting music in surgery was distracting, Dr Meads warned care should be taken to ensure music during surgery did not interfere with the medical team’s communication.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “This is very interesting research.
“We hope doctors consider the findings closely, because we want patients to have the best experience and recovery possible when they undergo surgery.”
Hazim Sadideen, a plastic surgeon from University Hospitals Birmingham who has also researched the role of music, said the study was comprehensive.
He added: “Undertaking both minor and major surgery can induce stress.
“Music can be used as an additional modality or adjunct to improve the patient journey, of course it is important to ensure the patient and theatre team would like music to be played.”