Can a slight touch—or even no touch—really help you feel better? The complementary medicine approach, known as energy therapy, is a body of ancient practices based on the very premise that subtle touch, or no touch at all, can balance and heal a person’s personal energy system, also called the biofield. By tapping into the mind-body connection, energy therapy has been shown to access, channel, balance and/or manipulate energy to promote health, healing and general well-being.
Many cultures have built sophisticated healing systems on the concept of a circulating personal energetic life force (known as ki, chi, or prana) and other aspects of personal energy. These complex energy-based healing systems, used and honed for thousands of years, are the basis for the many ways of viewing and balancing the body’s energy.
What are the different types of energy therapy?
There are many energy-based healing practices, including:
Through the application of small, sterilized needles to specific points throughout the body (or through stimulation by pressure, magnets or heat, known as acupressure), acupuncture has been shown to alter T-cells, a type of white blood cell.15 This can be significant for those with ITP due to the condition being considered a T-cell mediated disease. Although acupuncture usually employs ultra thin, sterilized needles, no bleeding side effects were observed in those with very low platelet counts.7 Thirty percent of respondents in PDSA’s Survey of Non-Traditional Treatments in ITP reported that acupressure and acupuncture increased their platelets or improved their bleeding symptoms, with five to 10 percent reporting sustained results.
A Japanese hands-on, energy-therapy system, Reiki is administered through a practitioner placing his palms lightly on or over various parts of the body in an effort to distribute energy. Reiki has been shown to reduce stress, increase relaxation and promote healing, in addition to influencing the autonomic nervous system, the system that adjusts processes such as heart rate and blood pressure as well as reduce psychological distress.1,10,14 Nearly 40 percent of respondents in PDSA’s Survey of Non-Traditional Treatments in ITP reported that Reiki increased their platelet count or improved their bleeding symptoms, with nine to 18 percent reporting sustained results.
An energy therapy using gentle hand techniques to help re-pattern a person’s energy field and accelerate healing of the body, mind an spirit, healing touch has been used to help reduce the stress level and heart rate variability in children with cancer.5 In PDSA’s Survey of Non-Traditional Treatments in ITP, 21 to 36 percent reported that healing touch therapy increased their platelet count or improved their bleeding symptoms, with six to 12 percent reporting sustained results.
Music Therapy and Sound Healing
Focused on the sense of sound as a powerful medium to connect to one’s inner self and world, music therapy uses a cacophony of frequencies and harmonies to trigger an emotional response, while sound healing uses specific frequencies and harmonics to heal the body. Musical activity has been shown to decrease serum IL-4 (an immune regulator) and corticosterone (a stress hormone) in an animal study9 and reduced cd4 and cd8 (immune system proteins) and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in those with an infectious lung disease.8 Participating in music, not just listening, can also positively affect the immune system.6
Qi gong (chi kung)
The ancient Chinese practice of qi gong (pronounced CHEE-gung) combines slow, deliberate movements, meditation and breathing exercises and is relied on by millions of people everyday. Qi gong has been shown to increase the number of white blood cells, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and improve depression, among other things.11 People utilizing Qi gong exercises in combination with prescribed drugs were able to lower the dosage of their medication.13 In a randomized controlled study, medical Qi gong reduced inflammation, improved cognitive function, and generally improved the quality of life of cancer patients.12
Why are energy therapies used?
Energy therapies have very broad applications, from promoting relaxation, general health and well-being, to treatment for symptoms of chronic conditions. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health has shown anecdotal evidence supporting biofield therapies for a wide variety of health problems, such as asthma, hypertension, arthritis, acute pain, chronic pain, wound healing, stress and anxiety.
While there have been no specific clinical studies for energy therapy and ITP, there are studies that are related to some aspects of the disease. These studies and the results from PDSA’s Survey on Non-Traditional Treatments of ITP show that energy therapy can have a positive, healing effect on the body.
What are the risks of using energy therapies?
There is no known downside risk to the hands-on healing therapies including Reiki and healing touch, or breathing therapies such as Qi gong. Also, because energy therapies do not use ingestible medications, the approach won’t interfere with conventional treatments.
According to literature, EH [energy healing] is noninvasive and poses little downside risk to patients. More than 50 major hospitals and clinics throughout the United States offer EH to patients. Because negative outcomes are at or near zero throughout the literature, EH is a candidate for use on many medical conditions.4
Some serious adverse events have been reported for acupuncture treatment for pain, but the reporting and descriptions were incomplete.3 Sustained loud music can produce buzzing in the ears and hearing loss,2 ; therapeutic music is not administered at a level that can cause hearing damage.
Because energy therapies are individualized and can vary by practitioner, it is important to work with a licensed or highly trained professional who is very knowledgeable and experienced. Find out more about questions to ask when choosing the best healthcare provider for you.
1. Baldwin AL et al. “Reiki improves heart rate homeostasis in laboratory rats.”J Altern Complement Med. 2008 May;14(4):417-22 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18435597
2. Budimcić M et al. [Subjective difficulties in young people related to extensive loud music listening].Srp Arh Celok Lek. 2010 Jul-Aug;138(7-8):404-7.2010 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20842882
3. Capili B et al. “Adverse event reporting in acupuncture clinical trials focusing on pain.” Clin J Pain. 2010 Jan;26(1):43-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20026952
4. DiNucci EM. “Energy healing: a complementary treatment for orthopaedic and other conditions.” Orthop Nurs. 2005 Jul-Aug;24(4):259-69. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16056170
5. Kemper KJ et al. “Impact of healing touch on pediatric oncology outpatients: pilot study.” J Soc Integr Oncol. 2009 Winter;7(1):12-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19476730
6. Kuhn D. “The effects of active and passive participation in musical activity on the immune system as measured by salivary immunoglobulin A (SIgA).” J Music Ther. 2002 Spring;39(1):30-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12015810
7. Ladas EJ, “The safety of acupuncture in children and adolescents with cancer therapy-related thrombocytopenia.” Support Care Cancer. 2010 Nov;18(11):1487-90. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20556436
8. le Roux FH et al. “The effect of Bach's Magnificat on emotions, immune, and endocrine parameters during physiotherapy treatment of patients with infectious lung conditions.” J Music Ther. 2007 Summer;44(2):156-68 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17484523
9. Lu Y et al. “Effects of stress in early life on immune functions in rats with asthma and the effects of music therapy.” J Asthma. 2010 Jun;47(5):526-31 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20560827
10. Mackay N et al. “Autonomic nervous system changes during Reiki treatment: a preliminary study.”J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Dec;10(6):1077-81. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15674004
11. Ng BH et al. “Psychophysiological outcomes of health qi gong for chronic conditions: a systematic review.”Psychophysiology. 2009 Mar;46(2):257-69. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19170945
12. Oh B, et al “Effect of medical Qigong on cognitive function, quality of life, and a biomarker of inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial.” Support Care Cancer. 2011 Jun 19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21688163
13. Sancier KM. “Therapeutic benefits of qigong exercises in combination with drugs.” J Altern Complement Med. 1999 Aug;5(4):383-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10471019
14. 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. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15154152
15. Yuan J et al. “[Effect of acupuncture on T-lymphocyte and its subsets from the peripheral blood of patients with malignant neoplasm].”[Article in Chinese] Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. [Acupuncture Research] 1993;18(3):174-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7923712