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Using Reiki to Manage Pain

Keywords: paired samples, t-test, Likert scale, sign test, Kruskal-Wallis.


The purpose of this study was to explore the usefulness of Reiki as an adjuvant to opioid therapy in the management of pain. Since no studies in this area could be found, a pilot study was carried out involving 20 Volunteers experiencing pain at 55 sites for a variety of reasons, including cancer. All Reiki treatments were provided by a certified second-degree Reiki therapist. Pain was measured using both a visual analogue scale (VAS) and a Likert scale immediately before and after the Reiki treatment. Both instruments showed a highly significant (p < 0.0001) reduction in pain following the Reiki treatment.


Proponents of Reiki, a type of touch therapy, hypothesize that Reiki re-establishes the energy balance in areas of the body experiencing disease and discomfort, thus promoting healing, reducing pain and increasing quality of life. The main feature that distinguishes Reiki from other couch therapies, such as therapeutic touch, is that Reiki therapists have physical contact with the body. Participants in Reiki are fully-clothed and may be covered with a blanket if they wish. The treatment, delivered to 18 specific areas of the body, begins with the participant lying on his or her back. The hands are placed on 10 distinct locations on the head and torso. The participant is then asked to lie on his or her stomach (or side, if this is more comfortable), where the hands are placed on 8 additional distinct locations covering the back, hip area and feet. The treatment takes approximately 1.25 hours to complete.

Treatment of cancer pain usually focuses on opioids. Since high doses of opioids frequently aggravate other common symptoms of cancer patients, it is of interest to explore non-drug treatments that may allow control of cancer pain with lower doses of opioids. This project studied whether Reiki is beneficial in the management of pain for people from the community experiencing general chronic pain, as a prelimary step in deciding whether Reiki is worth trying for cancer patients.

The Sample

The eligibility criteria were that subjects must be at least 18 years old, not receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy, be experiencing moderate pain (at least 3 on a VAS (0-10) or 2 on a Likert scale (0-5)), have normal cognitive function, be able to speak, read and write English, and be willing to complete the study rating scales. The sample size necessary was calculated using the binomial distribution with the assumption that 50% of the study participants might be expected to benefit from treatment. The probability of a decrease in pain following treatment in 14 or more cases out of 20 by chance alone is 0.058. [VAS means "Visual Analogue Scale". A Likert-type item consists of a single statement, followed by a usually five or six-point choice with each choice described in words.]

Notices were placed in retail establishments and community centres. Potential participans identified themselves by telephoning the research assistant at a number provided on the recruitment posters. Individuals who met the eligibility criteria and who signed a consent form were scheduled to receive a treatment by a Reiki therapist.

Twenty People were recruited (18 women and 2 men) who ranged in age from 23 to 62 years (mean 44 years). These participants were currently experiencing pain at 55 sites. Ten participants had pain in their upper body and 4 in their lower body. The remaining 6 participants had pain in both the upper and lower parts of their body. Eight participants attributed their pain to bone and muscle problems and 5 participants to chronic illness. Three of the participants included in the chronic illness group had cancer. Six participants had been experiencing pain for 1 year or less, and 7 had been experiencing pain for more than 1 year, up through 7 years. The remaining seven had been in pain for more than 7 years, one for 48 years.

Eighteen participants had asked their physician for help with their pain, and 19 were currently using at least 1 of the following strategies to manage it: analgesic preparations, anti-inflammatory medications, exercise, massage, acupuncture, therapeutic touch, chiropractic, homeopathy, meditation, vitamins, steam, muscle relaxation techniques and Tai Chi.

Treatment and Data Collection

Participants were given 1 treatment by the Reiki therapist in her office. They lay on a massage table fully clothed and, if desired, were also covered with a sheet or blanket. The lights were dimmed, and a candle was lit; soft music played in the background. The environment was consistent through all 20 treatments. A pain VAS ranging from 0 to 10 and a Likert scale ranging from 0 to 5 were completed immediately before and after the Reiki treatment.


Data File (tab-delimited text)


Karin Olson and John Hanson (1997). Using Reiki to Manage Pain. Cancer Prevention and Control, I(2).


There was no relation between active medication use and reduction in pain score following treatment (Kruskal-Wallis, p = 0.49). Similarly there was no relation between length of time that pain had been experienced and reduction in pain (Kruskal-Wallis, p = 0.87).

17 participants on the VAS scale and 18 participants on the Likert scale reported a reduction in their pain following treatment (p = 0.001 and 0.0002 respectively). A comparison of the before and after scores using a paired t-test showed a mean decrease in pain scores for the VAS scale of 2.25 and for the likert scale of 1.25 (p < 0.0001 for each test).



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