Effect of Reiki Therapy on Pain and Anxiety in Adults: An In-Depth Literature Review of Randomized Trials with Effect Size Calculations
The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques is growing in popularity with the public. CAM modalities are often either lauded or debunked in the popular press and the scientific community based on the evidence of one study. Reiki therapy, a form of biofield energy has been examined with community dwelling older adults, specific disease conditions such as cancer, chronic fatigue, diabetic neuropathy, surgical patients, and others. The objective of this review is to determine if Reiki therapy is effective for pain and anxiety in adults and to calculate the effect sizes for Reiki therapy in randomized clinical trials. Moreover, this review considers the use of Reiki therapy for pain and anxiety in adults and seeks to discover if Reiki therapy is effective for these conditions based on current evidence. There is a lot of confusion around what Reiki therapy is. From a practical standpoint, Reiki therapy is a way for the practitioner to guide energy to the recipient, to assist the innate healing energy of the recipient and facilitate self-healing (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012a). The practitioner does not cause the healing, nor are they the source of the energy. The practitioner is a channel for the energy, much like a garden hose is a channel for water. Many call this energy universal, but some say it is from God, Buddha, or a sacred source. A common interpretation for the word Reiki is spiritually guided life force energy (Rand, 2005). There are several versions regarding the origins of Reiki therapy. It is generally accepted that Reiki therapy began with Dr. Mikau Usui, a spiritual seeker who undertook a 21 day penance and fast on Mount Kurama in Japan (Miles, 2008). Usui experienced the Reiki energy on the 21st day and was healed. He brought the technique to his family and subsequently opened a clinic in order to treat the public. Usui taught Reiki therapy level one to many people and taught several students the master/teacher level (Rand, 2005). Usui taught Reiki therapy as part of a spiritual practice, but not as a religion (Miles, 2008). As Reiki therapy evolved and came to the West, the hands-on healing practices came to the fore and the spirituality piece of the practice faded. There are three degrees or levels of Reiki practice. First degree practitioners are able to treat themselves or others through light touch (Miles & True, 2003). This level of Reiki is suitable for anyone from school aged children to the very old. Second degree Reiki expands practice to the use of distance healing: the practitioner may send Reiki energy to the next room or around the world (Rand, 2005). Third degree or master level Reiki expands Reiki practice to teaching and initiating others into Reiki and involves extensive practice. A typical Reiki therapy session may last from 30 to 90 minutes. Ideally, the recipient lies comfortably on a massage table fully clothed and the practitioner places their hands lightly on the body in a set sequence of hand positions. Most people leave a Reiki therapy session feeling very relaxed. A qualitative study found that during a Reiki treatment participants felt “dreamy,” “safe,” “secure,” and “more grounded” (Ring, 2009, p. 255). A study of nurses who use Reiki therapy for self-care found that the nurses used Reiki therapy during their workday to feel more calm, centered, and more able to care for others (Vitale, 2009). The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) places Reiki therapy in the in the category of biofield energy. Biofield energy is any electrical or magnetic field produced by a biological organism, e.g. a human. The human body produces measurable electrical and magnetic fields. The heart produces an electrical field to regulate its beat: This electrical signal is measured through an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), a common medical test. The brain also produces an electrical field but at a much lower level than the heart. In fact, every cell in the human body produces minute amounts of electricity, a magnetic field, has a positive charge on the outer cell wall, and a negative charge on the inner cell wall (Dale, 2009). Electrical fields produce magnetic fields with a stronger electrical field producing a stronger magnetic field (Rae, 2005; Thomas, 2012). A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses the body’s own magnetic field (along with a strong magnet and radio waves that are emitted from the machine) to produce sharp images of soft tissue within the body (Berger, 2002). Classic Newtonian physics experiments have shown how waves interact with each other: Depending on the pattern, some waves are enhanced and some are cancelled (Figure 1). The interference pattern between two human magnetic fields may explain some of the results that any touch therapy creates.
Wave interference pattern. “A” and “B” are two people standing near each other. The black lines are peaks and the grey lines are troughs. The circles indicate areas where the two waves enhance one another (either higher peak or lower trough). The diamonds indicate areas where the two waves cancel each other.
The theory of quantum physics may hold promise in the future explanation of the mechanisms of Reiki. Although no verified theory exists that explains how Reiki therapy (or any biofield energy therapy) works, there may be a scientific explanation for Reiki therapy to be found in quantum physics, a branch of physics that was first discovered in the 1800’s and studies extremely small particles (electrons, photons, and the like) that do not behave in a predictable way. Quantum physics studies these particles and attempts to describe the interactions of energy and matter. Physicists have found that very tiny particles have some very curious properties: Not only can these tiny particles be in more than one place at once, some theorists say they have to be in more than one place at the same time (Rosenblum & Kuttner, 2006). The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2012 was won by two scientists who were each able to detect a particle being in two places at the same time (Nobelprize.org, 2012). Biofield energy may be gathered and directed by the practitioner to the recipient as explained by quantum physics, e.g., thought produces change in how the particles work (Rosenblum & Kuttner, 2006). Distance healing may be explained by energy particles being simultaneously present at the location and time of the Reiki practitioner and the location and time of the recipient through the intention of the Reiki practitioner. These particles by definition are difficult to measure but beginning in the 1960’s scientists began measuring the biomagnetic field coming from the human heart that is believed to extend beyond the body (see Figure 2). In the 1990’s Dr. John Zimmerman was able to measure a biomagnetic field coming from a healing practitioner’s hands (see Figure 3) with a device called a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID). A few years later a Japanese team measured a biomagnetic field emanating from the hands of practitioners of yoga, meditation, Qigong and similar modalities (Oschman, 2000). These electromagnetic signal pulses varied from 0.3 to 30 Hertz (cycles per second). Device-generated pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) have been effective for bone stimulation, stroke rehabilitation, decreased postoperative pain, and other applications (Abo et al., 2012; Heden & Pilla, 2008; Kondo et al., 2013). Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units are a well-known example of an adjustable pulsed electromagnetic field that is used to decrease chronic pain. Although it may be difficult to imagine tiny particles that react to human thought, scientific experiments have shown this phenomenon to be true for some time now (Rae, 2005). The similarities between human-generated biomagnetic energy such as Reiki therapy and device-generated electromagnetic fields for healing seem clear. The measurement of human biofield energy demonstrates the existence of human-generated biomagnetic energy. The similarities in the behavior of quantum particles and Reiki energy require more study, however repeated physics experiments with thought-driven particles united with the measurement of human biofield energy suggests that Reiki energy may consist of quantum particles that may lead to a validated theory of Reiki therapy.
Human biofield as it extends outside the body. Reprinted from Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis, Oschman, J. L Polarity, therapeutic touch, magnet therapy, and related methods, p. 77, Copyright Elsevier Limited (2000), with permission from Elsevier
Signal recorded from the hands of a therapeutic touch practitioner on the SQUID device. Reprinted from Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis, Oschman, J. L. Polarity, therapeutic touch, magnet therapy, and related methods, p. 87, Copyright Elsevier Limited (2000), with permission from Elsevier