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Energy Therapies

By Steven Rosenzweig, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Drexel University College of Medicine

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Energy therapies focus on the energy fields thought to exist in and around the body (biofields). They also encompass the use of external energy sources (electromagnetic fields) to influence health and healing. All energy therapies are based on a core belief in the existence of a universal life force or subtle energy that resides in and around the body. Energy therapies include magnets, Reiki, therapeutic touch, yoga, Ayurveda (see Whole Medical Systems : Ayurveda), acupuncture (see Acupuncture), and qi gong.

Practitioners of energy therapies typically place their hands on or near the body and use their energy to affect the energy field of the person.


Magnet-based therapies use static magnetic fields, pulsed electrical fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields. Magnets, in particular, have become a popular treatment for various musculoskeletal conditions. Magnets have been marketed in clothing, jewelry, and mattresses to relieve pain.

Static magnet therapy remains scientifically unproven, especially for pain relief, which is one of the most common applications. Research studies of the effectiveness of static magnets have been inconclusive. Research studies of electromagnetic therapy for treating osteoarthritis and other pain conditions have been more promising. Using pulsating electromagnetic fields to speed healing of fractures that have stopped healing is well-established. A magnetic device is used in conventional psychiatry to deliver magnetic pulses through the skull as a treatment for depression.

It is not clear whether magnet therapy is safe for the following people:

  • Pregnant women (the effects on the fetus are unknown)

  • People who have implanted cardiac devices

  • People who use an insulin pump

  • People who take a drug given by patch


Reiki is of Japanese origin. In it, practitioners channel energy through their hands and transfer it into the person’s body to promote healing. Practitioners complete a course of training with the intention of developing the ability to direct healing energy to others. Reiki is safe. Practitioners either do not touch the client or make very light contact with fingertips. Its effectiveness is not proved.

Therapeutic Touch

Therapeutic touch, sometimes referred to as a laying on of hands, uses the therapist’s healing energy to identify and repair imbalances in a person’s biofield. Unlike in Reiki, therapists usually do not touch the person. Instead, therapists move their hands back and forth over the person. Therapeutic touch has been used to lessen anxiety and improve the sense of well-being in people who have cancer, but these effects have not been studied rigorously. Therapeutic touch has gained acceptance by many holistic nurses who integrate this therapy into their hospital work routine. Therapeutic touch is safe.