What Is It?
How Does It Work?

What You Can Expect
Health Benefits

How To Choose a Practitioner


Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

Reiki (pronounced "ray-kee") is a therapeutic technique in which healing energy is channeled, or conducted, through a practitioner's hands into the person receiving the treatment. It is believed that Reiki brings the body into emotional and spiritual balance, supporting the body's natural ability to heal itself.

The name Reiki comes from the Japanese rei, meaning "universal," and ki, meaning "energy." Reiki's "universal energy" is equivalent to the vital life force, or qi, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and to prana in Ayurvedic medicine. Those who practice Reiki assume the existence of this invisible energy, which is believed to radiate through all life forms.

Reiki's origins are unclear, but it is thought to derive from the healing practices of ancient Tibetan monks. In the early 1900s Reiki as we know it was introduced in Japan by Mikao Usui, a religious scholar and teacher who had studied healing in Tibet. Usui named the therapy Reiki and developed the Usui System of Reiki Healing, which is considered by many to be the foundation of the therapy today. Usui's system was brought to Hawaii in the 1930s by Hawayo Takata, a Japanese-American woman who had received the esteemed degree of Reiki Master from one of Usui's disciples. After teaching it there for years, she brought the practice to the mainland U.S. in the 1970s.

How Does It Work?

Proponents of Reiki believe that when one's ki is disturbed, sickness can develop. By placing hands on or above a person, a Reiki practitioner seeks to access this energy and channel it with their hands into a more balanced pattern for the person receiving treatment. This helps to break up disturbances, allowing energy to again flow freely through the person's body and facilitate healing. While evidence of Reiki's health benefits is mainly anecdotal, some researchers feel that the deep state of relaxation a Reiki session induces may trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers.

Those who have undergone Reiki treatments report that it clears the mind and creates a heightened sense of awareness. By helping some people to release pent-up emotions, the therapy may also serve to relieve stress, often an underlying cause of illness.

What You Can Expect

Receiving Reiki is a gentle, soothing experience (some people even fall asleep during a treatment). Because it is a spiritual tradition, before beginning a session, the practitioner may spend time in quiet contemplation or meditation, thinking about the universal life force that will be channeled into you. The treatment process is considered a healing experience for both the practitioner and the client, and the practitioner often feels recharged and refreshed after a session as well.

During a Reiki treatment, the participant typically lies fully clothed on a padded massage table in a warm, comfortable room. The practitioner may first "scan" the patient's body for energy disturbance by moving his hands a few inches above it. A good practitioner, it is said, can readily find disturbances because his hands feel hot or tingly as he encounters them. Any areas where there are disturbance will then be a focus of the treatment.

Whether or not there are disturbances, the practitioner typically begins by placing the hands lightly and systematically at various places along the body, including the abdomen, legs, back, and feet. This gentle touch may be maintained for three to five minutes at each place (and up to 20 minutes if there is a problem), as the healing energy is channeled.

A thorough Reiki session usually lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. For stress reduction, one or two Reiki sessions are usually enough. As an adjunct therapy for chronic conditions, long-term treatment may be recommended.

Health Benefits

Reiki should not be regarded as a substitute for conventional medical care. However, many practitioners and patients have found the therapy to be an effective adjunct treatment for relieving the pain of such chronic diseases as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Because it is noninvasive, Reiki may also help to treat conditions where touching the body could be painful--in severe burn cases or in those recovering from surgery, for example.

By clearing energy disturbances and helping a person feel more invigorated, Reiki may also relieve depression and other emotional problems. In addition, it has been found to be useful in reducing stress in those being treated for cancer and AIDS.

Specifically, Reiki may help to:

Promote mobility in osteoarthritis. By clearing ki energy disruptions in the joints and muscles surrounding joints, Reiki therapy may help to ease the pain and stiffness that accompany this degenerative joint disease, thereby improving range of motion and mobility in sufferers. In a 1998 study of 82 non-institutionalized elderly patients with osteoarthritis, six weeks of Reiki therapy treatments at one-week intervals led to improved scores for pain, tension and mood, and significantly improved mobility and hand function compared to conventional arthritis treatment combined with progressive muscle relaxation therapy. (1) In a 1998 single-blind study of 25 patients between the ages of 40 and 80 diagnosed with osteoarthritis of at least one knee (who had not had knee replacement and had no other connective tissue disease), Reiki therapy led to significantly decreased pain and improved function compared to Placebo and control groups. (2) Two reviews of energy healing methods, including Reiki, indicate that because Reiki is a safe and noninvasive therapy with little risk of negative side effects, it is a recommended adjunctive treatment for arthritis. (3, 4) However, larger randomized studies are needed. A 2006 review of studies involving alternative therapies for osteoarthritis determined that the evidence regarding Reiki is weak or contradictory, but promising results warrant further investigation in large-scale, definitive, randomized trials. (5)

Treat chronic pain. Patients with chronic neuropathic pain who cannot tolerate other touch therapies may benefit from the gentle method of clearing energy disturbances used in Reiki therapy. In a 2008 Cochrane Database review of 24 controlled trials involving the use of Healing Touch, Therapeutic Touch and Reiki therapies to relieve acute and chronic pain in 1,153 patients, touch therapies led to a modest effect in pain relief compared to control groups. Greater pain reduction was seen in trials involving more experienced practitioners and in those involving Reiki. Two out of five studies evaluating analgesic usage supported the claim that the use of touch therapy minimized the amount of analgesics needed to reduce pain. (6) In a 2010 trial of 30 elderly patients with chronic pain, patients experienced significant improvements in pain, depression and sleep quality after eight Reiki sessions. (7)

While Reiki has been touted as an effective adjunctive treatment for the chronic pain and fatigue that accompany fibromyalgia, evidence does not support this use. In a 2008 study of 100 adults with fibromyalgia, neither Reiki nor sham touch therapy treatments twice-weekly for eight weeks improved pain or other symptoms of fibromyalgia. (8) More research is needed.

Improve symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Reiki has been used to help manage symptoms of multiple sclerosis, such as pain, anxiety and loss of memory. A 1994 survey of 16 patients with multiple sclerosis showed that about one-third of respondents experienced an improvement in quality of life after using alternative therapies like Reiki when conventional treatment was not providing relief of symptoms. (9) In a series of case studies in the UK evaluating the use of Reiki to treat multiple sclerosis, all patients improved in at least three of the measured parameters after 12 weekly sessions. Overall, patients saw a 90% reduction of lethargy, 87% reduction of depression, 78% reduction of cognitive problems, 75% reduction of motor problems, 73% reduction of pain, 70% reduction of fatigue, 69% reduction of urine problems, 62% reduction of bowel problems, and 38% reduction in walking time. Some patients maintained the improvement in symptoms up to nine months after stopping treatment, but others saw symptoms return within six to eight weeks of treatment. (10) However, no formal studies have examined the use of Reiki to treat multiple sclerosis. Clinical trials are needed.

Relieve depression. Bringing the body into emotional and spiritual balance through Reiki is believed to help relieve depression. A 2004 study of 46 patients receiving Reiki treatments for six weeks found that treatment groups showed significant improvements in psychological depression and self-perceived stress compared to control groups; the differences between groups seemed to remain present one year later. (11) In a 2010 study of 20 community-dwelling older adults who experience pain, depression and/or anxiety, groups treated with Reiki showed improvements in mood, relaxation and well-being. (12) In a 2010 trial noted above, 30 elderly patients with chronic pain experienced significant improvements in pain, depression and sleep quality after eight Reiki sessions. (7) In a randomized, controlled, single-blind study of 40 college students with either high or low depression and/or anxiety, the participants with high depression and/or anxiety who received six 30-minute Reiki sessions over a period of two to eight weeks showed a progressive improvement in overall mood while no change was seen in controls. The improvement in mood in the treatment group was significantly better at the five-week follow-up point. (13) Larger studies are needed.

Reduce cancer-related pain and fatigue. Preliminary research shows that Reiki therapy can produce short-term pain relief and improve feelings of fatigue and quality of life in patients with cancer. (14-16) In a 2003 study of 24 patients receiving either conventional opioid treatment plus rest or opioid treatment plus Reiki therapy, patients in the Reiki treatment group experienced an improved pain control on Days 1 and 4 following treatment and improved quality of life compared to the group that rested on Days 1 and 4. However, Reiki treatment did not reduce the use of opioids. (14) In a 2006 review of 18 studies evaluating the use of alternative therapies for cancer-related pain in 1,499 patients, two studies involving Reiki reported immediate post-intervention or short-term relief of pain. (15) In a 2007 pilot crossover study of 16 patients (13 women) undergoing conventional cancer treatment, Reiki therapy led to significant improvements fatigue, pain and anxiety, as well as overall quality of life, compared to a control group assigned to scheduled periods of rest and without Reiki treatment. (16)

Improve quality of life in people living with AIDS. People living with AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) often experience high levels of psychiatric distress, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Reiki is often used to promote adherence to the conventional treatment regimen HAART, or highly active anti-retroviral therapy. In 1998, Dr. Robert Schmehr, CSW, director of Complementary Therapy at the HIV Center of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, conducted a case study involving a 62-year-old man diagnosed with AIDS in a hospital-based Reiki treatment and training program. The patient (a former cocaine addict) found self-treatment with Reiki therapy to be extremely relaxing and enjoyable; and he reported that it helped him to maintain sobriety, work through his depression and maintain adherence to HAART. (17) However, research is limited. Randomized, placebo-controlled trials are needed.

Decrease cognitive and behavior problems in Alzheimer's patients. Preliminary evidence indicates that Reiki therapy may help to reduce cortisol levels in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), thereby helping to decrease agitation by improving memory and response to stress. (18) In a preliminary study of 24 patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer's disease, patients receiving four weekly treatments from two Reiki Master-level practitioners showed a significant increase in mental functioning and memory and behavior problems compared to controls. (19)

Reduce tobacco dependency. Reiki is thought to promote relaxation and defuse stress associated with quitting smoking. Practitioners claim it also boosts circulation, drawing nicotine and other toxins out of the body and speeding the withdrawal process. (20) However, no formal studies have been conducted. Research is needed.

How To Choose a Practitioner

There is no national or statewide licensing for Reiki practitioners, although many who practice it may be licensed as physical therapists or massage therapists. Ask a physician, a friend, or a trusted body worker for a referral to a Reiki practitioner.

Traditionally, training in the Reiki method spans three degrees. Students can progress from one degree to the next, according to his rate of inner growth.

First degree. First-degree Reiki practitioners have completed approximately two days of training, typically during a weekend seminar. The training involves learning the history of Reiki, as well as becoming individually "attuned" or "initiated" to the healing energy. This involves receiving four "attunements" from the Reiki Master (these adjust the vibrations of the Reiki student, so that more energy can flow through the body). Students are also taught the basic Reiki hand positions for treating the whole body. After being given first-degree training, students are able to do Reiki on themselves, family, and friends.

Second degree. This training, also about two days in length, is available to those who have been practicing Reiki at the first-degree level for at least three months. Second-degree students are taught special techniques for enhancing the level of energy transferred and are trained to transmit healing energy long distance (called Distant Healing) to family and friends. Second-degree students are also taught how to contact the subconscious (called Mental Healing) in themselves and others.

Third degree, or Reiki Master. This training takes about a year and is available to people who have been practicing second-degree Reiki for at least one year. Those trained at this advanced level are qualified to teach Reiki to others and are expected to make a commitment to do so. 


 Reiki does not cure disease and is not intended to be the primary treatment for any health problem, but rather is a complementary therapy meant to support other treatment that is ongoing.

Reiki is not recommended as the primary treatment for broken bones, acute pain, or to delay immediate medical attention.

A responsible Reiki practitioner will never discourage a client from seeking medical care. 


1. Peck SD. The efficacy of therapeutic touch for improving functional ability in elders with degenerative arthritis. Nurs Sci Q. 1998 Fall;11(3):123-32.
2. Gordon A, Merenstein JH, D'Amico F, Hudgens D. The effects of therapeutic touch on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. J Fam Pract. 1998 Oct;47(4):271-7.
3. Prestwood K, Energy Medicine: What is it, How does it work, and What place does it have in orthopedics? Techn Orthop. 2003 Mar;18(1):46-53.
4. DiNucci EM. Energy healing: a complementary treatment for orthopedic and other conditions. Orthop Nurs. 2005 Jul-Aug;24(4):259-69.
5. Ernst E. Complementary or alternative therapies for osteoarthritis. Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol. 2006 Feb;2(2):74-80.
6. So PS, Jiang Y, Qin Y. Touch therapies for pain relief in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD006535.
7. Marta IE, Baldan SS, Berton AF, Pavam M, da Silva MJ. [The effectiveness of therapeutic touch on pain, depression and sleep in patients with chronic pain: clinical trial]. Rev Esc Enferm USP. 2010 Dec;44(4):1100-6.
8. Assefi N, Bogart A, Goldberg J, Buchwald D. Reiki for the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized, controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Nov;14(9):1115-22.
9. Fawcett J, Sidney JS, Hanson MJ, Riley-Lawless K. Use of alternative health therapies by people with multiple sclerosis: an  exploratory study. Holist Nurs Pract. 1994 Jan;8(2):36-42.
10. Pankhurst J. (RGN, Reiki Master) Thirteen case studies to investigate the effects of Reiki on the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. The Reiki Research Foundation.
11. Shore AG. Long-term effects of energetic healing on symptoms of psychological depression and self-perceived stress. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004 May-Jun;10(3):42-8.
12. Richeson NE, Spross JA, Lutz K, Peng C. Effects of Reiki on anxiety, depression, pain, and physiological factors in community-dwelling older adults. Res Gerontol Nurs. 2010 Jul;3(3):187-99.
13. Bowden D, Goddard L, Gruzelier J. A randomized controlled single-blind trial of the efficacy of Reiki at benefitting mood and wel-being. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:381862.
14. Olson K, hanson J, Mchaud M. A phase II trial of Reiki for the management of pain in advanced cancer patients. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2003;26:990-7.
15. Bardia A, Barton DL, Prokop LJ, et al. Efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine therapies in relieving cancer pain: a systematic review. J Clin Oncol. 2006 Dec 1;24(34):5457-64.
16. Tsang KL, Carlson LE, Olson K. Pilot crossover trial of Reiki versus rest for treating cancer-related fatigue. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007;6:25-35.
17. Schmehr R. Enhancing the treatment of HIV/AIDS with Reiki training and treatment. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):120, 118.
18. Woods DL, Dimond M. The effect of therapeutic touch on agitated behavior and cortisol in persons with Alzheimer's disease. Biol Res Nurs. 2002 Oct;4(2):104-14.
19. Crawford SE, Leaver VW, Mahoney SD. Using Reiki to decrease memory and behavior problems in mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer's disease. J Altern Complement Med. 2006;12:911-3.
20. The Center for Reiki Wellness. Available at Accessed April 25, 2011.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.








Favorable results from patients indicate potential efficacy to improve quality of life and adherence to conventional treatment. However, research is limited. Clinical trials are needed. (17)

Alzheimer's disease  
Preliminary evidence indicates potential efficacy to improve memory and behavior problems in patients with mild AD. More research is needed. (18, 19)
Small studies indicate potential efficacy to improve pain and mobility in osteoarthritis. Larger studies are needed. (1-5)

Chronic pain  
A Cochrane Database review indicates modest efficacy in reducing pain and some efficacy in reducing the need for conventional pain medication. Mo

Date Published: 04/19/2005
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