Reiki Therapy Detailed Scientific Review
The word, reiki, has been part of the Japanese language for centuries; rei has been defined as "universal, highest or non-dual" (tao in Chinese) and ki as "subtle or bio-energetic" (chi in Chinese)1. Current practices known as Reiki were initially called Usui Teate (Usui Hand Touch or Usui Hand Healing1) and also "Usui Reiki Ryoho" to distinguish it as a subset of spiritual practices developed by Mikao Usui2.
Mikao Usui (1865-1926) was a Buddhist monk who was known for bringing about healing through his hands. His healing system was based upon three pathways: his training in a Buddhist monastery that included the mastery of several martial arts, a mystical experience while meditating on Mt. Kurama and his avid interest in learning, which included trips to China and Europe. During his experience on the mountain, certain mystical symbols appeared to him that he believed to be key components of this healing system3.
Usui stressed spiritual unfolding through regular practice of spiritual techniques and saw any physical, emotional or mental healing that occurred as a natural by-product. In the last year of his life, one of his students asked him to further develop the therapeutic aspects of his system separately from his stringent meditative practices. He agreed and taught these healing specific concepts to his student, Chujiro Hayashi (1878-1940), who further developed them calling them, Hayashi Shiki Riki1.
Subsequently, a first generation American, Mrs. Hawayo Takata (1900-1980), told of being restored to health through these practices. She became a student and brought the teachings to Hawaii where she initiated 22 additional students. Although other lineages of students developed from those who remained in Japan, it is believed that they may have died during the Second World War. In any case, most western practitioners trace their lineages back to those who were trained by Mrs. Takata1,2.
Reiki training consists of a series of initiations known as empowerments or attunements. These attunements include revealing of specific symbols and are believed to connect the practitioner to the primordial consciousness. Students study and practice to achieve first, second and master levels with mastery of each level occurring through years of disciplined practice1,2.
Reiki sessions are offered to fully clothed participants and consist of the Reiki practitioner lightly placing his or her hands on 12 (some say 13) positions on the head and torso. If even light touch is not possible due to the nature of open lesions or sores, the hands may hover inches off of the body1. One Reiki master has noted that "no certificate conveys reliable information about quality of training" and that it is useful to inquire about consistency of self-treatment, extent of clinical practice and length of time between training at different levels1.
Proposed Mechanism of Action of Reiki
Although there is no agreed upon theory for just how Reiki works, practitioners believe that, in general, the placing of hands of one who has been initiated into Reiki allows a universal source to rebalance a person’s biofield at the deepest vibrational level thus removing subtle causes of illness and enhancing overall resilience1.
Published research concerning Reiki is discussed in the Summary of Research.
Summary of Research
We searched for the term “Reiki” between June 2003 and April 2006 on four databases: Medline, Alt Health Watch (peer-reviewed journals only) CINAHL and Psychinfo and identified 30 articles of which 8 concerned patients with cancer and mentioned or included Reiki.
Previously we had searched for the term, "Reiki," on these same databases: Medline (1966 - May 30, 2003), Alt Health Watch (peer-reviewed journals only, 1990 - May, 2003), CINAHL (1982 - July week 1 2003) and Psychinfo (1872 - May 2003) and identified 94 articles of which four concerned patients with cancer.
Combining the results of these two sets of searches, we have identified 124 articles and classified the 12 cancer-related articles into the following types of information:
*One article1 notes some cancer centers where Reiki is practiced and reviews studies of Reiki, but none of these studies were for patients with cancer.
We classified the studies in humans by the following study designs:
No. of Studies
Randomized Controlled Blinded Clinical Trial
Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial
Non-Randomized Controlled Trial /Prospective Cohort
Controlled trial/Prospective Cohort with Historical (Literature) Controls
Prospective Cohort/Clinical Series/ Trial with No Controls
Retrospective Cohort with Historical Controls
Retrospective Cohort with No Controls
Total Human Studies
*Numbers in parentheses indicate complete reports of trials that specifically evaluated effects of Reiki in patients with cancer.
The randomized controlled and blinded trial was not designed to evaluate the effectiveness of Reiki. Rather, it evaluated the ability of subjects to perceive the difference between officially initiated Reiki practitioners and those who had been trained but not initiated (placebo sessions). This was in preparation for an actual trial of Reiki effectiveness4.
One randomized controlled, but non-blinded trial evaluated the effect of Reiki upon pain among 24 evaluable patients with a variety of cancers. Significant effects upon pain were reported, but no changes in pain medication. However, patients had been advised to continue their pain medications even if the felt better5.
Two case reports of patients with cancer experiencing benefits after Reiki sessions have also been reported6,7.
Based upon one nonblinded controlled randomized trial and two case reports, no conclusions are possible concerning the effectiveness of Reiki for patients with cancer.
Reiki has been studied for other conditions that might be applicable to patients with cancer. One study of biopsy wound healing included Reiki, but it was not applied to the patients with the biopsy wounds. Instead, it was applied to the practitioners who were applying Therapeutic Touch to the patients with the wounds8,9. (This study is discussed in this Web site’s review of Therapeutic Touch.)
Reiki sessions provided to hospital patients recovering from strokes were not associated with any significant effects on stroke recovery in a randomized and double blinded study10.
A study in 23 volunteers by Engebretson and Wardell identified some patient perceptions and biological effects (blood pressure, salivary immunoglobulin A) that may be worthy of further study10,11. A laboratory study reported significantly reduced microvascular damage in rats exposed to noise for those receiving Reiki compared to sham Reiki13.
Whatever the effects or non-effects of Reiki, some are perceiving it to be helpful as described by one operating room nurse for one surgical patient14.
Brief individual summaries of studies for patients with cancer are provided within the Annotated Bibliography.
5Olson K, Hanson J, Michaud M. A phrase II trial of Reiki for the management of pain in advanced cancer patients. J Pain Symptom Manage 2003;26(5):990-7.Purpose: Relief of pain and improved quality of life.
Type of study: Randomized, controlled non-blinded study
Method: (Various cancers) Seventy-three patients out of an unknown number met eligibility requirements. No prior Reiki treatment, no chemotherapy or radiotherapy for the past month, a rating of 3 or greater on a 10-point visual analogue scale (VAS), two to five breakthrough doses of analgesics in the day prior to recruitment and currently receiving palliative care due to advanced cancer, but 20 patients refused participation because they only wanted Reiki treatment. Investigators administered a baseline assessment with the Edmonton Staging System for cancer pain, prior use of opioids and history of alcohol and drug dependence. A multidimensional quality of life assessment was also administered. Patients were randomized to two groups: opioids plus rest versus opioids plus Reiki. All Reiki treatments were administered one hour after their afternoon analgesic dose and were provided by the same person, a Reiki Master but no placebo for the Reiki treatment was used. The research nurse did remain with all participants in both arms. During the study, VAS pain score, analgesic use and other activities to relieve pain were recorded by patients daily at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime.
Results: During the study period, five people died, 14 were withdrawn by the research nurse because of a drop in their Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE), three patients withdrew due to deterioration in health status and seven patients withdrew for unknown reasons. The final number of evaluable patient was 24.
Day 1: Participants who received standard opioid therapy plus Reiki reported a significant improvement in pain (p=0.035) and a significant drop in diastolic blood pressure ( P= 0.005) and pulse (P= 0.019) compared to the standard opioid therapy plus rest.
Day 4: Participants who received standard opioid therapy plus Reiki, compared to the standard opioid therapy plus rest. reported a significant improvement in pain (p=0.002) and their drop in diastolic blood pressure approached significance( P= 0.082). Also, significant improvement (P=0.002) was seen in the psychological component of quality of life from Day 1 to Day 7 compared to the standard opioid therapy plus rest. However, a review of daily pain diaries by participants comparing changes in pain and median morphine equivalent dose from Days 1-7, did not show significant differences between opioid therapy plus Reiki and the standard opioid therapy plus rest. For most measures the confidence interval for the Morphine Equivalent Opioid dose was wide.
Notes: Detecting changes in analgesic use may not have been feasible for this study because patients were advised by their physicians to maintain their prescribed analgesic dose, even if they felt better, until it was changed by the physician. Also, no “washout” periods for analgesics were planned and may not have been possible.
This report replaces the previous note of a preliminary report on this website15.
6Bullock M. Reiki: A complementary therapy for life.
Purpose: Relief of pain and quality of life
Type of study: Case report
Method: This study is reported by a home health nurse for a 70-year-old man with a mass in his right groin from an aggressive unknown primary. The mass had caused a deep vein thrombosis associated with extreme swelling and pain in his right leg. He received palliative radiation, heparin and MS Contin, but the some pain continued. The nurse provided Reiki sessions during her one to two visits per week over the next five months.
Results: Pain and swelling were relieved, the patient was able to walk again and decrease his pain medication. The mass decreased, but then recurred and the patient was readmitted to the hospital after five months. He was alive and in the hospital as of the report.
Cautions concerning this report:
Although radiation undoubtedly reduced the mass and medications helped, the patient perceived that Reiki sessions were also beneficial.
Reporting by the person who provided the Reiki therapy may have biased the patient's perceptions and their reporting.
7Chrysostomou A, Mellowship D. Reiki as a clinical therapy. Positive Health 2006 Mar;121:19-20.
Purpose: Describe experiences of patients with Reiki
Type of Study: Case reports
Method: Five examples of cases demonstrating the effects of working with Reiki were reported, although only one is included here, since it is the only one for someone with cancer.
Case Study 1: A recently diagnosed breast cancer patient saw tumor shrinkage by 1 cm after three-week period of Reiki treatments, beginning with daily two-hour treatments and ending with every-other day 45 minute treatments. No other treatments were received at this time.
Caution: Not enough details were provided to reach any conclusions.
Full citations are provided in the Reference List.
- Miles P, True G. Reiki-review of a biofield therapy history, theory, practice, and research. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 2003 Mar-2003 Apr;9(2):62-72.
- Editors. Reiki: a working definition. Reiki News Magazine 2003 Spring;2(1):46.
- Rand W. Reiki, The Healing Touch. Southfield, MI: Vision Publications, 1991.
- Mansour AA, Beuche M, Laing G, Leis A, Nurse J. A study to test the effectiveness of placebo Reiki standardization procedures developed for a planned Reiki efficacy study.[comment]. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. 1999 Apr;5(2):153-64.
- Olson K, Hanson J. Using Reiki to manage pain: a preliminary report. Cancer Prevention & Control. 1997 Jun;1(2):108-13.
- Bullock M. Reiki: a complementary therapy for life. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care. 1997 Jan-Feb;14(1):31-3.
- Chrysostomou A, Mellowship D. Reiki as a clinical therapy. Positive Health 2006 Mar;121:19-20.
- Wirth DP, Richardson JT, Eidelman WS. Wound healing and complementary therapies: a review. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1996;2(4):493-502.
- Wirth DP, Barrett MJ. Complementary healing therapies. Int J Psychosom 1994;41:61-7.
- Shiflett SC, Nayak S, Bid C, Miles P, Agostinelli S. Effect of Reiki treatments on functional recovery in patients in poststroke rehabilitation: a pilot study. J of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 2002 Dec;8(6):755-963.
- Wardell DW, Engebretson J. Biological correlates of Reiki Touch sm healing. J of Advanced Nursing 2001 Feb;33(4):439-45.
- Engebretson J, Wardell DW. Experience of a Reiki session. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 2002 Mar-2002 Apr;8(2):48-53.
- Baldwin AL, Schwartz GE. Personal interaction with a Reiki practitioner decreases noise-induced microvascular damage in an animal model. J Alt Comp Med 2006;12(1):15-22.
- Sawyer J. The first Reiki practitioner in our OR. AORN J (The Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses) 1998;67(3):674-7.
- Olson K, Hanson J. Using Reiki to manage pain: a preliminary report. Cancer Prevention & Control. 1997 Jun;1(2):108-13.