There are few conditions that affect your quality of life and ability to function as much as persistent back pain. Surgery, pain medications, or lifestyle changes may offer some relief, but they can come with potential risks or side effects and may just be short-term solutions.
You may want to consider trying the Japanese healing technique Reiki if you’ve had difficulty finding treatments for back pain.
In her practice at the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, Victoria Bodner describes chronic back pain as “not a fun time” that can make you feel miserable and out of sorts.
“People with chronic back pain can get thrown into a vicious cycle of pain,” Bodner says. “They come in and have been taking pain relievers or using hot and cold to relieve it, but those things just act upon their sympathetic nervous system and cause them to continue in pain.”
Reiki: Breaking the Cycle of Pain
When a person gets on the Reiki table, it can take some time for them to close their eyes, relax, and disperse the pain,” she explains. “I begin by placing my hands on the client’s feet and grounding myself.
At some point I will hear the person say, ‘Ahhh,’” says Bodner. “So I connect with them while I connect with the earth and allow the energy to flow through me.”
Typically, a Reiki session begins at the head or feet, and the practitioner’s hands are very close to your body, with their hands barely touching, according to the International Association of Reiki Professionals.
In all the years Bodner has been doing this, she has never seen anyone leave without having experienced some benefit, she explains. Sometimes people fall asleep, which is also restorative.
According to Bodner, the hands can provide warmth and comfort to people who are in pain or do not often get touched. “A few fingers placed on the feet can do a lot for someone in pain,” he explains.
Yet, it is not just the physical touch that makes Reiki work. It can also be practiced via phone sessions, even when the client and practitioner are in separate locations both physically and energetically.
Is There Scientific Evidence That Reiki Can Ease Back Pain?
Reiki can definitely be used as complementary therapy to treat back pain, says Martha Lacy, MD, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a Reiki master.
“I wouldn’t recommend Reiki instead of Western back pain medicine, but I think it could be used as an adjunct or a complement to those therapies,” says Dr. Lacy. “Reiki can improve quality of life, and it has a proven role. Martha Lacy, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a Reiki master, recommends Reiki as a complementary therapy to treat back as a useful adjunct for pain control, anxiety, stress relief, and relaxation,” she says.
Researchers aren’t very well versed in Reiki, but there are studies suggesting it can help back pain. One published study looked at 60 people who had herniated spinal disks and found that Reiki had improved back pain
the severity of back pain went down and people’s ability to do activities of daily living went up along with a course of physical therapy.
This meta-analyse examined a small number of studies about how Reiki can reduce pain by using the visual analog scale (sometimes called the VAS), a self-reported measure ranging from “no pain” all the way to “unbearable pain.”
Compared with people who did not receive Reiki in the control group, people receiving Reiki significantly decreased their pain score.
Do We Know Why Reiki Works for Chronic Back Pain?
Researchers suggest that Reiki may be doing something in the body to relieve pain. This includes activating the vagus nerve, which may release endorphins,
In October 2017, the Journal of Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a review on serotonin, which controls mood, digestion, heart rate and even pain perception.
A theory, derived from the ki theory of energy therapy, suggests that Reiki removes energy blocks and balances the energy system, also called chakras. According to this theory, this clearing is thought to enhance the body’s ability to heal and provide a feeling of well-being.
It is because of our energy fields that we are also sensitive to the energy fields of others. “You can feel something and you can barely describe it if you walk into a room with an angry person,” Lacy says.
According to Lacy, western medicine recognizes that electrical energy is part of our system. “That’s the foundation for an electrocardiogram. It measures the electrical activity of the heart. Magnetic resonance imaging uses the magnetic fields of energy within people,” says Lacy.
Western medicine recognizes energy is within us on some level, she says, but it does not connect this with the notion that people have an overall energy system. Integrating Eastern medicine healing approaches like Reiki, acupuncture, and qigong do just that, Lacy says.
What to Know if You’re Considering Reiki
There’s very little you need to do before receiving Reiki, but here are some pointers:
Wear comfortable clothes. During a Reiki treatment you will be fully clothed while fully-clothed due to the fact that most people choose to be semi- or fully reclined on the massage table.
Have an open mind … or not. Patients who are able, willing, and ready for Reiki treatment are more likely to benefit from receiving it, says Lacy. “I have had a lot of people tell me it works and I have to say the same for my husband,” Lacy says.
Be consistent about going for Reiki. Researchers don’t know how best to use Reiki for back pain because there haven’t been enough trials. “Most trials are fairly short, looking at one session of Reiki a week for four to six weeks.”
A long-term study of Reiki has never been performed, but she thinks it works more consistently if you do it regularly.