Reiki Treatment: The Science Behind Alternative Medicine

Reiki treatment is one of the more controversial forms of alternative medicine. It is based on a Japanese healing technique that is sometimes referred to as “light touch therapy” in the West.

The belief is that subtle energy surrounding the body can be moved and manipulated to help ease pain and facilitate healing in the body.

Although many would argue that there is no real scientific way to measure this subtle energy, and therefore validate this technique, there is emerging research which supports its use in modern medicine.

Reiki Treatment

How Reiki Treatment Works

If interested in trying reiki therapy, you should know what to expect. The treatments are very relaxing, and also are very spiritual in nature. The practitioner may begin by meditating or offering a silent prayer. They will either have you sit up comfortably or lie flat on a massage table for the duration of the treatment. Just before they begin, they may also rub their hands together briskly to create warmth and energy.

The treatment begins with the practitioner either very lightly laying hands on you or allowing their hands to hover just above your body. The energy surrounding your body is subtly manipulated by the practitioner as they move their hands from the top of your head, to the bottom of your feet. They may pause over painful areas and spend time “working” the energy in those areas. You will be encouraged to just relax and breathe deeply through the treatment.

History of Reiki

Reiki is an Eastern practice that was not introduced to the West until the early 1900’s. It was discovered by Sensei Mikao Usui, who after fasting and climbing to the top of a high mountain, was enlightened with the energy of Reiki. He tried this newfound energy on himself and his family and found it had great healing powers.

A later Reiki Master, Hawayo Takata, brought Reiki from Japan to the West in 1937. In the 1980 and 1990, others taught by Hawayo Takata began to teach the practice and train other practitioners in the United States. Today, most reiki training in the West comes from the teachings and writings of Mrs. Takata.

Uses of Reiki

Reiki has many practical uses. Just about any illness or injury can benefit in part by reiki therapy. Even in cases of severe trauma, patients have benefited from both conventional medical care and reiki while in the emergency room. Some hospitals are now even training their nurses in reiki so that they may integrate this therapy along with traditional medicine.

Reiki treatment is most commonly used for:

  • Anxiety and Stress
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Cancer
  • Mild depression
  • High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Trauma and injuries

Current Research

Although scientific research is really just emerging in the field of reiki, it still supports reiki as a therapeutic modality. According to the Center for Reiki Research, it is now offered in more than 70 hospitals, medical clinics and hospice programs.

In a study published in “Biological Research for Nursing” in August 2011, researchers found that reiki has a real, measurable effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is responsible for regulating heart rate, body temperature and other functions not consciously controlled. The study showed that ECG recordings and body temperatures were higher in the patients treated with reiki than those treated with a placebo or mock treatment.

The “American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care” produced a report of the effects of reiki on pain and anxiety in cancer patients in October of 2011. The researchers wanted to verify the effects of reiki on patients undergoing regular oncology treatments, which can be very painful, and tend to create anxiety in patients. The 3-year study showed that reiki helped to decrease pain and anxiety scores in patients who received at least one reiki treatment in conjunction with their regular care.

Another study published in ECAM in 2011 also showed reiki’s beneficial effects on mood. The study included 40 student-patients with both depression and anxiety who were treated with 30-minute reiki sessions over two to eight weeks. The patients showed a progressive improvement in overall mood. It was concluded that reiki has beneficial effects on mood and depression.

As with many other forms of alternative medicine, some critics will claim that there is no evidence to support it. However, more and more scientific studies are emerging which validate reiki and other alternative treatments.

Many alternative therapies are very beneficial and have great merit. They can and should have a place in modern medicine. This is not to say they should replace conventional care, but can work side by side with other traditional treatment methods.

If interested in alternative medicine, talk to your doctor about the research you have read in this latest series. Consider using any of these therapeutic modalities – yoga, herbs, acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, chiropractic or reiki, in conjunction with traditional medical care. Ultimately you are responsible for your health!


  1. Biological Research for Nursing; Immediate Effects of Reiki; 2011 –
  2. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care; Effects of Reiki Therapy on Pain and Anxiety; 2011 –
  3. ECAM; A randomised controlled single-blind trial of the efficacy of reiki at benefitting mood and well-being; 2011 –
  4. Research –
  5. History of Reiki –