Anecdotal reports have shown promise and few negative side-effects for the use of Reiki and other energy medicine modalities for pain in clinical settings.7–11
To our knowledge, this is the first randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial of Reiki for chronic pain. The factorial design, which compared treatment by a Reiki master and sham provider and direct and distant techniques, revealed no treatment improved the pain, fatigue, well-being, or physical and mental functioning of participants with fibromyalgia. Similarly, secondary outcomes such as health care utilization did not differ between treatment groups with the exception of pain medication use, which is likely to have occurred by chance given the lack of difference between groups for multiple other outcome indicators.
Only two other trials have examined Reiki for chronic pain.10,18
Neither of these trials met the criteria for a rigorously designed study of energy medicine.19
In an unblinded study of 24 patients with cancer pain,10
self-reported pain control and quality of life improved but opioid use was unchanged when direct Reiki was used as an adjunctive therapy. Another trial compared direct Reiki to progressive muscle relaxation, sham Reiki, and no treatment in 120 patients with pain due to diverse chronic medical conditions.18
Although pain, depression, and anxiety were reduced, no data were presented to verify that participants were adequately blinded to the treatment interventions; also, the sham Reiki providers were research assistants, healing intention was not controlled for, and it is unclear whether the individuals involved in collecting the data were blinded to the treatment assignment.
Our study has several strengths including using sham Reiki providers that controlled for both touch and healing intention and a study design that accounted for the potential placebo effects of light touch. We also were vigilant about blinding participants, data collectors, and data analysts and measuring treatment expectations. In addition, we had a relatively low rate of attrition for an unconventional therapy and our follow-up extended 12 weeks beyond the actual treatment. Lastly, we used standard, validated outcome measures for fibromyalgia.
Nonetheless, our study also has limitations. First, our sample size was modest and our study was not powered to detect subtle changes. Second, our study providers used standardized Reiki positions that did not cater to individualized participant needs. Third, although the duration and length of treatment for Reiki have not been clearly defined, our treatment intensity or duration may have been insufficient for a chronic pain disorder. Finally, our trial was so tightly controlled to avoid the many potential sources of information leakage, bias, and psychologic impact of the healer–patient relationship (even with sham healers), that it may not represent the optimal circumstances for healing to take place. Some distant healing researchers have advocated conducting studies in nonhuman populations to minimize the bias of multiple possible psychologic factors,20
have resorted to waiting lists and informing some of their patients of their randomization group.