Reiki and Pain

Last month, I wrote about science’s exploration and explanation of the biofield, the field of energy and information that exists within and around living systems—like us! This month, I’ll start exploring how Reiki, considered a biofield therapy by the US National Institutes of Health, supports health and wellbeing by helping to reduce physical pain and discomfort.

For about eight years, I experienced varying levels of chronic pain throughout my body and I knew I wasn’t alone. Data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey found over 55% of American adults experienced some type of pain over the preceding 3 months 6 and the 2016 survey showed that over 20% of American adults live with chronic pain. 3 Pain isn’t easy to treat and over time it can take its toll on a person’s mental and emotional states, further impacting their health and wellbeing.

Studies published in clinical journals include Reiki’s effects on pain in older adults, patients after surgery, and cancer patients. In a study of adults in an assisted-living community, those who received Reiki noticed a significant decrease in pain compared to those who didn’t receive Reiki. The Reiki group also reported reduced muscle spasm, more physical comfort, and better sleep. 8

Reiki on abdomen

Research studies examining Reiki’s effect on post-operative pain make a compelling case that Reiki is a beneficial complement to conventional pain-reduction measures. In a study of patients having impacted molars removed, there was a significant decrease in pain intensity and greater pain relief when patients received Reiki compared to when they did not.10 A study of women after abdominal hysterectomies and another of women following cesarean deliveries showed that those who received Reiki reported less pain, requested fewer pain medications, and had less anxiety than those who didn’t receive Reiki.5,9 Patients undergoing knee replacement surgery who received Reiki showed a significant reduction in pain, healthier blood pressure levels, and less anxiety than the groups that received gentle touch without Reiki or rested. The Reiki group also had the highest percentage of hospital discharge after 48 hours, instead of 72 hours, suggesting fewer complications post-surgery.1

Studies also show that Reiki is beneficial in reducing pain while improving wellbeing in cancer patients.2,4,7 Oncology patients receiving Reiki for the first time reported more than a 50% decrease in distress and significant reduction of anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue.4 In a study of advanced cancer patients receiving standard opioid pain treatment, the group that received Reiki reported a significant decrease in pain, reduced blood pressure, and improved mental and emotional states compared to the rest group.7

Reiki on feet

Although I look forward to seeing more published studies, what convinces me most about Reiki’s effect on pain is witnessing the changes in my clients. Bill scheduled a Reiki session when pain in his left knee impacted his ability to enjoy daily walks. A few years earlier, he had been diagnosed with a Baker’s cyst in that knee causing stiffness and pain that worsened with movement. It had lasted two months and he worried it might return when he started having pain in that same knee again. During his session, I focused ten minutes of Reiki on his knee in addition to more traditional Reiki hand placements. The next day he told me he had gone for a walk following the session and didn’t feel any discomfort in his knee! However, after a few days had passed, the pain began to return. He continued to see me for Reiki once a week and I spent about ten minutes of each session on his left knee. Over the next couple of weeks, his knee felt better for longer stretches of time. At the beginning of his fourth appointment, he said he wanted to focus on an ache in his shoulder and his overall mood. When I asked him about his knee, he told me it felt so much better that he hardly thought about it! And he had returned to enjoying long walks every day.

Experiences like Bill’s and a number of clinical studies suggest that Reiki’s effects are cumulative, meaning feelings of improved wellbeing last longer each consecutive session. However, I have witnessed near-immediate long-lasting effects in cases of acute pain given Reiki shortly after their cause. I had seen Judy a few times to support her overall wellbeing as she often put her self-care last on her long list of priorities. One day she arrived complaining of pain in her right lower arm from hitting it hard on the corner of a table a couple of days previously. Certain movements, carrying weight, and wearing bracelets all increased the pain. She told me it felt similar to the pain she had with shin splints years ago. I covered her forearm with my hands, feeling them grow warm with the flow of Reiki, for about 10 to 15 minutes before continuing with her regular session. When I saw her a week later, I asked how her arm was feeling and she said that it felt better ever since her Reiki session!

It fills me with gratitude and joy that I am able to offer this kind of support to clients with physical pain and discomfort. Let me know if you have any questions about this article or how Reiki can support you or a loved one. I’m always happy to help!


1. Baldwin, Ann Linda et al. “Effects of Reiki on Pain, Anxiety, and Blood Pressure in Patients Undergoing Knee Replacement: A pilot study.” Holistic Nursing Practice, vol. 31, no. 2, 80-89. April-May 2017. ResearchGate, doi: 10.1097/HNP.0000000000000195.

2. Birocco, Nadia, et al. “The Effects of Reiki Therapy on Pain and Anxiety in Patients Attending a Day Oncology and Infusion Services Unit.” American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, vol. 29, no. 4, 290-294. 2012. SagePub, doi: 10.1177/1049909111420859. 

3. Dahlhamer, James et al. “Prevelance of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults—United States, 2016.” CDC: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 67, no. 36, 1001-1006. Sept 2018.

4. Fleisher, Kimberly A. Et al. “Integrative Reiki for Cancer Patients: A Program Evaluation.” Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 13, no. 1, 62-67. 2014. SagePub, doi: 10.1177/1534735413503547. 

5. Midilli, Tulay Sagkal and Ismet Eser. “Effects of Reiki on Post-cesarean Delivery Pain, Anxiety, and Hemodynamic Parameters: A Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trial.” Pain Management Nursing, vol. 16, no. 3, 388-399. June 2015. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2014.09.005.

6. “NIH analysis shows Americans are in pain.” National Institutes of Health: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.  11 August 2015. Accessed 3 April 2019.

7. Olson, Karin et al. “A Phase II Trial of Reiki for the Management of Pain in Advanced Cancer Patients.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol. 26, no. 5, 990-99. November 2003.

8. Richeson, Nancy E et al. “Effects of Reiki on Anxiety, Depression, Pain, and Physiological Factors in Community-Dwelling Older Adults.” Research in Gerontological Nursing, vol. 3, no. 3, 187-199. 2010. PubMed, doi: 10.3928/19404921-20100601-01.

9. Vitale, Anne T and Priscilla O’Conner. “The effect of Reiki on pain and anxiety in women with abdominal hysterectomies: a quasi-experimental pilot study.” Holistic Nursing Practice, vol. 20, no. 6, 263-272. November 2006. PubMed, PMID: 17099413.

10. Wirth, Daniel et al. “The effect of complementary healing therapy on postoperative pain after surgical removal of impacted third molar teeth.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol. 1, no. 3, 133-138. July 1993. ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/0965-2299(93)90004-W