Reiki Healing is a form of energy-based medicine that is based on Tibetan Buddhist healing methods rediscovered by a Japanese practitioner in the early 20th century. The word Reiki is comprised of two Japanese words – Rei (meaning ‘Higher Power’) and Ki (meaning ‘life force energy’). Life force energy is believed to be the energy that flows through all living things and causes us to be alive. Reiki is based on the principal that if an individual’s life force energy is low, that individual is more likely to become sick or feel the effects of stress; conversely, high levels of life force energy promote health. Reiki therapy involves the use of therapeutic touch and positive healing intention, during which the practitioner lays hands on the patient and channels life force energy. Reiki features hand positions on the front and back of the body, and also involves the use of symbolism to accentuate the healing process. Some practitioners report being able to improve patients’ symptoms through intention alone, without the need for physical contact with the patient; this is referred to as distant Reiki (Barnett et al., 1996; Miles & True, 2003). The reports of Reiki healing that are available in the scientific literature are predominantly anecdotal in nature, nevertheless, research studies have been published purporting a positive effect of Reiki therapy on both pain control and psychologic health (Olson et al., 2003; Shore, 2004).
Reiki Healing Research
The first and only randomized-controlled study of Reiki therapy (considered the “gold standard” for research study design) was published in 2008 by Assefi and colleagues. In this study, the authors randomized 100 adults with fibromyalgia into one of four groups: 1) a generic 30-minute Reiki therapeutic session involving direct hands-on touch from a Reiki master practitioner; 2) distant Reiki administered by a Reiki master practitioner from a distance of approximately two feet away; 3) “sham” direct contact Reiki therapy administered by actors playing the role of Reiki master practitioners; and 4) “sham” distant Reiki administered by actors playing the role of Reiki master practitioners. Participants in each group received two treatments per week for a period of eight weeks. Following analysis of the results, which included assessments of participants’ pain, functioning, healthcare utilization, and perceived skill of practitioner, the researchers found no detectable differences between pain, fatigue, well-being, or physical and mental functioning among patients treated in any of the four groups. The authors concluded that fibromyalgia patients are unlikely to benefit from Reiki therapy (Assefi et al., 2008).
Additional studies have looked at other forms of “energy healing” on fibromyalgia symptoms, (Denison, 2004; da Silva et al., 2007; DiNucci, 2005; Adiels et al., 2005). For example, a small 2005 study evaluated the use of “tactile stimulation” in 10 female fibromyalgia patients who experienced symptoms associated with Temporomandibular Jaw Disorder, or TMJ. Tactile stimulation is not the same as Reiki therapy, however the authors did not elaborate on what such stimulation included. Patients received therapy once a week for over a 10 week period, and in follow-up reported improved signs and symptoms of TMJ, as well as general body pain. Eight of the 10 patients also reported improvements in sleep. The authors cite the potential utility of these findings for fibromyalgia patients who experience TMJ, and call for larger, more well-controlled studies (Adiels et al., 2005).
Other studies have evaluated Reiki as a treatment for chronic pain, however their findings are compromised by poor study design. A 2003 study investigated the use of Reiki therapy as an additional component of standard cancer pain therapy. This small study, consisting of 24 cancer patients, found that self-reported pain control and quality of life improved, however the use of opoid pain medications was unchanged among participants (Olson et al., 2003). Furthermore, although a slightly larger study of 120 patients with chronic pain also found improved measures of self-reported pain, depression, and anxiety among participants who received Reiki therapy versus progressive muscle relaxation, sham Reiki therapy, or no treatment, the published study failed to present data to support adequate study design and proper blinding of both study participants and practitioners (Dressen & Singg, 1998).
Anecdotal evidence in support of Reiki Healing for Fibromyalgia Treatment is not difficult to find as many fibromyalgia patients who have tried Reiki Healing report improved symptoms. While there is little doubt that many patients perceived improvement in symptoms while using Reiki Therapy is of benefit to them, it is difficult to correlate these types of findings to a larger scientific benefit to the general Fibromyalgia population. Most who report positive benefits from Reiki Therapy are also continuing with other treatment efforts at the same time and the methods by which Reiki Therapy is administered can vary greatly from patient to patient. In cases where therapeutic touch is employed, the benefits may in fact be associated with the massage therapy aspects of the treatment. As with many treatment efforts employed for treating Fibromyalgia, the fact that no solid scientific evidence exists to support the therapy as effective for all patients does not mean it is not significantly effective for some patients.