Should you give Reiki a try?

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By Lorie A. Parch

At PainResource.com we talk a lot about creating a personal, unique pain management plan that works for you. That generally means medication and nondrug therapies, from massage and acupuncture to supplements and heating pads. There’s another drug-free option you may want to consider: Reiki.

Before you dismiss it as New Age malarkey, hear us out. There’s an increasing amount of good research being done on this type of “energy healing” therapy, and much of the therapy is focused on easing pain.

But let’s first explain what Reiki (pronounced rAI-kee) is.

Anne Vitale, Ph.D., a nurse, as well as Reiki investigator and practitioner, describes it as the use of hands by a trained Reiki practitioner to bring life-force energy healing energy that’s all around us to a recipient. The person has to be trained to better receive that energy. It’s a very ancient, hands-on healing therapy.”

Reiki probably derived from the Tibetan scriptures, Vitale says. The practice was lost for thousands of years, until a 19th-century Japanese monk revived it.

“Almost every culture around the globe has some reference to the use of hands to heal,” says Vitale, founder of Innerlight Research, in Toms River, N.J. “Many, many cultures believe in the use of energy to heal.” The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, recognizes Reiki as a complementary health approach.

Maybe you’ve already had therapeutic touch (TT) or healing touch (HT). Reiki is a bit different but operates on the same principles.

“By and large, [all these therapies] work the same,” says Vitale. “However, HT and TT were mostly developed by nurses and are probably really offshoots of Reiki. … With [HT and TT] the practitioner is basically balancing the person’s energy field, seeing variations and smoothing them out, whereas a Reiki practitioner is bringing energy to the person’s energy field.”

The research on Reiki™s effectiveness in relieving pain is conflicting. A 2008 study of the use of Reiki, touch therapy, or no touch on 100 fibromyalgia patients found that none of the treatments eased the participants’ discomfort.

Though that study was a randomized, controlled trial, Vitale says most research on Reiki isn’t well-designed”something that she and others have worked hard in the last few years to fix. Newer, better constructed research is indeed “pointing” toward a useful role for Reiki in easing pain, she says.

The clinical trials now are done with more rigor,” Vitale says, adding that she’s working on a review of the status of Reiki and pain management research.

Her research has focused largely on post-operative pain. (Vitale also wrote a 2007 review about research on Reiki for pain and other health problems.) She is currently consulting on a large trial at a military hospital studying pain related to trauma to veterans’ arms and legs.

A 2010 review of a variety of “biofield therapies””including Reiki, TT, and HT assessed 66 studies. The review researchers found that many of the studies weren’t of great quality, but they wrote that the therapies show strong evidence for reducing pain intensity in pain populations, and moderate evidence for reducing pain intensity [in] hospitalized and cancer patients.”

The American Cancer Society website include information about Reiki and also points to the conflicting evidence for the therapy, as well as the poor formulation of most research.

Vitale stresses that Reiki should never replace medical treatment but says it may be a helpful adjuvant therapy for some people.

If you do try it, be prepared to commit to at least two or three sessions with a qualified practitioner.

“We still haven’t been able to distinguish the exact number of sessions it takes to get some relief,” Vitale says. However, it is a subtle energy therapy, so it could take a little time,” though some people see a dramatic effect right away, she adds.

If people don’t feel better after two weeks, “perhaps the modality is not for them,” Vitale says. If you see a benefit, consider sticking with it but having sessions less frequently. (To find a qualified Reiki practitioner, go to the American Holistic Nurses Association or the International Center for Reiki Training.)

Who’s the ideal candidate for pain relief with Reiki?

Vitale says it is someone who is open to looking at integrated health modalities that could possibly help them with their situation.

Not that they should abandon the medical model at all, she says. Once we are in a more relaxed state, we calm the body, and that can be very beneficial to relieving pain. Reiki and other TT are not invasive. They are safe. They don’t hurt ¦ so you might want to try one of those things that will relax you, calm you, and where you may be more protected against pain.”

And there may be some self-help available.

“One of the hottest topics in energy work is the emerging area of teaching folks how to use Reiki on themselves for stress or pain management,” Vitale says. You must attend a Reiki level-one class that teaches self-care. Classes are offered across the U.S. through many organizations.

Have you tried Reiki to ease your discomfort? Would you?

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