The aim of this randomized controlled trial was to determine the effect of jaw relaxation, music and the combination of relaxation and music on postoperative pain after major abdominal surgery during ambulation and rest on postoperative days 1 and 2. Opioid medication provided for pain, following abdominal surgery, does not always give sufficient relief and can cause undesired side effects. Thus, additional interventions such as music and relaxation may provide more complete relief. Previous studies have found mixed results due to small sample sizes and other methodological problems. In a rigorous experimental design, 500 subjects aged 18-70 in five Midwestern hospitals were randomly assigned by minimization to a relaxation, music, relaxation plus music, or control group. Interventions were taught preoperatively and tested postoperatively. The same amount of time was spent with subjects in the control group. Pain was measured with the visual analogue sensation and distress of pain scales. Demographic and surgical variables, and milligrams of parenteral or oral opioids in effect at the time of testing were not significantly different between the groups, nor did they correlate with pain scores. Controlling for pretest sensation and distress, orthogonal a priori contrasts and multivariate analysis of covariance indicated that the three treatment groups had significantly less pain than the controls, (P = 0.028-0.000) which was confirmed by the univariate analysis of covariance (P = 0.018-0.000). Post hoc multivariate analysis revealed that the combination group had significantly less sensation and distress of pain than the control group on all post-tests (P = 0.035-0.000), and the relaxation and music groups had significantly less on all tests (P = 0.022-0.000) except after ambulation. At post ambulation those using relaxation did not have significantly less pain than the controls on both days and those using music did not on day 1, although there were some univariate effects. A corresponding significant decrease in mastery of the interventions from pre to post ambulation suggests the need for reminders to focus on the intervention during this increased activity. Physicians and nurses preparing patients for surgery and caring for them afterward, should encourage patients to use relaxation and music as adjuvants to medication for postoperative pain.