A Disco Beat Isn't Enough For CPR Stardom

Nov 3, 2011

"Disco Science," which you may know from the movie Snatch, has joined the '70s hit "Stayin' Alive" and the British children's song "Nellie the Elephant" on a unique playlist.

The three songs have been found to help people compress the chest at the right rate. Unfortunately, adding music to the CPR mix doesn't improve its overall effectiveness, a new study finds.

Researchers compared the CPR technique of 74 paramedics, health care professionals, and students planning to enter those fields, all of whom had completed CPR training. Each person gave chest compressions for three 1-minute intervals, while listening (in random order) to "Disco Science," the country tune "Achy Breaky Heart" and silence.

"Disco Science" has a tempo of 105 beats per minute, while "Achy Breaky Heart" clocks in at 120. Previous research had shown that listening to a song with a beat in line with American Heart Association guidelines of at least 100 chest compressions per minute helped people maintain the proper rate, and that held true in this study.

But, getting the rate right isn't enough. Over half the compressions were too shallow. It's important to do both well for the best results, Malcolm Woollard, a trained paramedic, told Shots. Woollard is a professor in pre-hospital and emergency care at Coventry University in the U.K.

Still, improper compressions are better than nothing. "We know that bad CPR is better than no CPR," Woollard said.

Which is heartening, really, because in this study, lots of bad habits presented themselves. More than a quarter of the participants didn't release completely between compressions when they were listening to either tune. And between half and two-thirds put their hands in the wrong places, regardless of musical accompaniment.

Compressions delivered too high on the chest can fracture ribs, making CPR less effective, while those given too low on the chest can damage the liver. Failing to release completely stops the heart from filling with blood. Woollard said he didn't expect any of those problems to be solved by listening to music.

"We did this bit of research with our tongues at least partially in cheek," Woollard told Shots. He described it as a fun experiment, designed to get paramedics interested in research and raise public awareness of CPR.

The AHA estimates that emergency medical services treat 300,000 people for cardiac arrest each year, and CPR can double or triple a victim's chance of survival.

Advances in training and equipment are making CPR more effective. Chest pumps that provide automated feedback to paramedics have proven more effective coaches than pop singers. The devices measure the rate and depth of compressions, gives real time feedback, and record the data to allow for better training. Similar tools are available to the general public as well, including a PocketCPR mobile app.

Woollard considers CPR a worthy area of research, but he and his co-authors plan to end their quest for the perfect pumping song. Their paper concludes, "This interesting but unproductive area of resuscitation research should be discontinued."

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