Energy therapy

March 22, 2017


Energy therapy

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Acupuncture, Asian bodywork, ayurveda, craniosacral therapy, crystal therapy, cupping, distant healing, faith healing, healing touch (therapeutic touch), light therapy, magnet therapy, meditation, moxibustion, muscle testing, music therapy, phototherapy, prayer, Qi gong, reflexology, reiki, TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, yoga.


  • Energy therapy is a broad category of modalities and practices that are intended to aid a person in maintaining health and recovering from illness.

  • Energy therapy can be broadly divided into two categories: veritable energy therapy and putative energy therapy. Veritable energy therapies make use of specific wavelengths and frequencies to treat a patient. The effects of these therapies are generally easier to measure in medical research because the energy is expressed in a way that is measurable in Western medicine. Putative energy therapies are more difficult to quantify in research studies and function in ways that have not yet or cannot be "proven" by Western medicine to exist. Putative energy therapies are generally regarded as more subtle than their veritable energy counterparts. Putative energy therapies usually focus on gently influencing the maladaptive energy thought to cause illness towards a more harmonious state, while veritable energies are based on the idea that energies can be immediately adjusted or realigned.

  • Energy therapy does not have its origin in any one medical tradition. Rather, it is a contemporary category of medicine that reflects the exposure and availability of multiple theories of sickness and healing.

  • Popular forms of energy medicine include light therapy, magnet therapy, music therapy, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), moxibustion, cupping, Asian bodywork, Ayurveda, craniosacral therapy, crystal therapy, healing touch (therapeutic touch), meditation, muscle testing, prayer/distant healing/faith healing, Qi gong, reflexology, reiki, and yoga.

  • In general, veritable energy therapies are more respected and accepted by mainstream medical practitioners because the techniques involve familiar concepts, such as magnetic waves or electrical impulses. The ability to easily measure these forms of energy has rendered veritable energy systems easier to study. As a result, more research has been conducted on these areas of healing.

  • Clinical trials based on outcome of treatment rather than measured intervals of improvement are increasingly common in medical literature. These types of trials bypass the difficulty of measuring the putative energy expressed during the course of therapy, and therefore remove one of the primary barriers to evaluating healing traditions using scientifically verified methods. Though some energy therapies may never be measurable using biophysical properties, their popularity is increasing in mainstream American society.


  • Veritable energy medicine:

  • Light therapy / Phototherapy: Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is the use of a specialized machine to emit only a specific wavelength of the light spectrum. These spectrums usually range between 380 and 740 nanometers. Light therapy consists of exposure to specific wavelengths of light using lasers, LEDs, fluorescent lamps, dichroic lamps, or very bright, full-spectrum light, for a prescribed amount of time that is determined by the device and light intensity. Each wavelength in the light spectrum is said to possess specific qualities. Advocates claim that each wavelength may assist a person who is diagnosed with a particular condition to experience relief. For instance, light between 405-420 nanometers has been used to treat acne.

  • Light therapy machines offer more of a particularly useful wavelength than would be available by exposure to the sun. Humans transform light into electrochemical energy, which activates a chain of biochemical reactions within cells, stimulating metabolism and reinforcing the immune response of the entire human body. However, the human response to light therapy may be more complicated, and natural sunlight may not offer wavelengths of useful light in strong enough concentrations.

  • Light therapy is a first line treatment for neonatal jaundice. It is also very popular as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a special type of light therapy machine to treat psoriasis. Light therapy is approved by major medical organizations for the treatment of these conditions. Light therapy is sometimes used to treat other difficult conditions, including chronic wounds or skin problems, burns, chronic rheumatic conditions, acute joint pain, acute sports injuries, post-operative scar healing, hair loss and dandruff, periodontitis, and gynecological disorders. In recent years, an increasing number of individuals have used light therapy to treat delayed sleep phase syndrome and acne. The medical community is currently conducting clinical trials evaluating light therapy for these purposes.

  • Magnet therapy: The use of magnets to treat illness has been described historically in many civilizations, and was mentioned by ancient Egyptian priests and in the 4th Century BC by Hippocrates. The 15th Century Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus theorized that magnets may be able to attract diseases and leach them from the body. In modern times, magnetic fields play an important role in Western medicine, including use for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), pulsed electromagnetic fields, and experimental magnetic stimulatory techniques. Many different types, sizes, and strengths of magnets are available. Magnet therapy may be administered by a healthcare professional, or used by individuals on their own. Constant (static) magnets or pulsed electromagnetic fields may be applied to areas of the body affected by illness, or to the entire body. Devices exist that can be implanted in the body or used externally to deliver pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Self-adhesive magnetic strips, foils, belts, and bracelets are available for self-treatment. Magnetic jewelry, such as earrings and necklaces, shoe inserts, mattress pads, and magnet-conditioned water are commercially available. Magnet wraps are available for thumbs, wrists, knees, thighs, ankles, elbows, shoulders, shins, and the back and head, as well as for animals such as dogs, cats, and horses. Lodestones are rocks that may possess natural magnetic properties, and are sometimes sold as healthcare products.

  • Music therapy: Music is used to influence physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being, and may improve quality of life for healthy people, as well as those who are disabled or ill. It may involve either listening to or performing music, with or without the presence of a music therapist. Music therapists are professionally trained to design specialized applications of music according to an individual's needs using improvisation, receptive listening, song writing, lyric discussion, imagery, performance, or learning through music. Sessions can be designed for individuals or groups based on the specific needs of the participants. Infants, children, adolescents, adults, the elderly, and even animals may all potentially benefit from music therapy. Music therapists work in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, rehabilitative facilities, medical hospitals, outpatient clinics, day treatment centers, agencies serving developmentally disabled persons, community mental health centers, drug and alcohol programs, senior centers, nursing homes, hospice programs, correctional facilities, halfway houses, schools, and in private practice. Receptive methods involve listening to and responding to live or recorded music. Discussion of their responses is believed to help people express themselves in socially accepted ways and to examine personal issues. Improvisation involves spontaneous creation of music with voice, instruments, or body sounds, which may allow for creative expression, energy release, development of personal insights, and redirection of negative emotions. Recreative experiences involve singing and playing pre-composed music. This is believed to help develop a sense of mastery and increased self-confidence.

  • Pacemaker: If symptom-producing bradycardias do not have a cause that can be corrected, doctors often treat them with a pacemaker. A pacemaker is a small, battery-powered device that is usually implanted near the collarbone. Pacemakers can be surgically placed into the chest (a permanent pacemaker) through a small incision or they can be worn outside the body (a temporary pacemaker) and attached to the heart through a wire that is threaded through a neck vein. Temporary pacemakers are used only while an individual is in a hospital. The surgery needed to implant a permanent pacemaker is considered a minor surgical procedure. The procedure may take one to two hours to complete. The area where the pacemaker will be inserted will be numbed with an injection of an anesthetic (numbing medication) such as lidocaine (Xylocaine®). The individual should not feel any pain during the procedure and should inform the doctor or staff if they are having pain so that more anesthetic medication may be given. One or more electrode-tipped wires run from the pacemaker through the blood vessels to the inner heart. The pacemaker's batteries may need to be changed every five to 10 years. If there are no other problems, most individuals who have a permanent pacemaker surgically implanted can go home the next day, and can usually return to normal activities within six weeks. For several weeks after having a pacemaker implanted, the individual may be asked not to lift more than five pounds or raise the affected arm over their shoulder.

  • Putative energy medicine:

  • Acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and moxibustion/cupping: There are many different varieties of the practice of acupuncture, both in the Orient and in the West. The most common forms available to westerners are traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), classical acupuncture, Japanese acupuncture, medical acupuncture, auricular acupuncture, and electroacupuncture. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) usually combines acupuncture with Chinese herbs. Classical acupuncture (also known as five element acupuncture) uses a different needling technique and relies on acupuncture independent of the use of herbs. Japanese acupuncture uses smaller needles than the other types of acupuncture. Medical acupuncture refers to acupuncture practiced by a conventional medical doctor. Auricular acupuncture treats the entire body through acupuncture points in the ears only. Electroacupuncture uses electrical currents attached to acupuncture needles. Aside from needles, other methods of stimulation are also considered forms of "acupuncture." These include use of heat from the burning of herbs placed on the acupuncture points ("moxibustion"), and the placement of herbal pastes on specific points.

  • Applied kinesiology: Applied kinesiology (AK) is a technique that uses muscle testing with the aim to diagnose nutritional deficiencies and health problems. It is based on the concept that weakness in certain muscles corresponds to specific disease states or body imbalances, such as a food allergy. AK practitioners may diagnose organ dysfunction, energy blockage, or allergies (including those to foods and drugs) with applied kinesiology techniques. Edukinesthesia is a type of AK that is used to detect the cause of learning difficulties and poor concentration. Some AK practitioners assert that this technique can be used to treat conditions by rectifying imbalances in the body. AK was developed in the 1960s by George Goodheart Jr., a chiropractor who asserted that postural distortions can be associated with weak muscles. He suggested that with his assessment technique, interventions could be identified and tested based on their ability to make muscles stronger and change postural distortions. Currently, AK may be practiced by chiropractors, naturopaths, medical doctors, dentists, nutritionists, physical therapists, massage therapists, nurse practitioners, or other providers. The International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK), founded in the 1970s, has established standards of practice for this form of assessment.

  • Asian bodywork/Shiatsu: The practice of applying finger pressure to specific acupoints throughout the body has been used in China since 2000 BC, prior to the use of acupuncture. Acupressure techniques are widely practiced internationally for relaxation, wellness promotion, and the treatment of various health conditions, such as chronic pain. Multiple human studies suggest effectiveness of wrist-point (P6) acupressure for treating nausea. Shiatsu means finger (Shi) pressure (Atsu) in Japanese. Shiatsu techniques involve finger pressure at acupoints and along body meridians. It can incorporate palm pressure, stretching, massaging, and other manual techniques. Shiatsu practitioners commonly treat musculoskeletal and psychological conditions, including neck/shoulder and lower back problems, arthritis, depression, and anxiety. Tuina (Chinese for "pushing and pulling") is similar to shiatsu but with more soft tissue manipulation and structural realignment. Tuina is a common form of Asian bodywork used in Chinese-American communities.

  • Ayurveda: In India, Ayurveda involves the eight principal branches of medicine: pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, ophthalmology, geriatrics, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), general medicine, and surgery. It is used by 80% of the Indian population today, although it exists side by side with conventional medicine. There are more than a quarter million practitioners of Ayurveda in India and there are entire hospitals based on this approach to medicine.

  • Craniosacral therapy: In the early 1900s, the osteopathic doctor William Sutherand developed a theory that proposed that the relationships and motions of the bones of the skull (cranium), of the fluid that flows through the brain and spinal column (cerebrospinal fluid), of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (meninges), and of the bones of the lower back (sacrum), lie at the core of the body's functioning and vital energy. A series of techniques grew out of these concepts, which were further developed in the 1970s by John Upledger, also an osteopathic doctor. Dr. Upledger coined the term craniosacral therapy, which refers to a form of therapeutic manipulation that is oriented to tissue, fluid, membranes, and energy.

  • Crystal therapy: Crystal therapy, also called crystal healing or gem therapy, uses crystals, each selected for specific characteristics or wavelength, to treat a wide range of mental and physical conditions. This approach is based on the belief that the body has an energy field that can be influenced by the placement of crystals on specific body points, which are determined by the practitioner's knowledge, clinical experience, and the patient's particular medical condition. Electrocrystal therapy was developed by the British inventor Harry Oldfield in the 1980s. This technique involves the use of an electromagnetic generator attached to conducting tubes filled with specific types of crystals. These tubes are applied to the body, and energy is transmitted through them. It is proposed that various types of crystals in these tubes have different effects on the body. For instance, lepidolite is thought to soothe worry and balance the emotions. An electronic device may also be used that is said to be able to detect areas of energy imbalance in the body. These areas may then be treated with electrocrystal therapy.

  • Healing touch (therapeutic touch): In addition to learning about the recipient's medical history and specific medical complaints, the healing touch practitioner also "scans," which involves moving the hands through the entire length of the patient's energy field, from head to feet, to sense (with the hands) irregularities in the energy field that may suggest blockages or stagnation of energy. Next, the practitioner may choose from several different techniques for intervention such as "hands in motion," "hands still," "ultrasound," "chakra connection," or "grounding." A typical session may last from 20 to 30 minutes. Practitioners use HT in outpatient pain centers, private practices, and operating rooms. Many nurses take training programs in HT.

  • Meditation: The definition of meditation varies. A classic definition of meditation is the deliberate self-regulation of attention through which the stream of consciousness is temporarily suspended. A common goal is to attain a state of "thoughtless awareness" of sensations and mental activities occurring at the present moment. However, meditation is often popularly perceived as any activity through which a person's attention is focused on a repetitious thought or word. Meditation generally does not involve suggestion, autosuggestion, or trance. Techniques that make use of constant repetition of syllables, visualizations, or other thought forms, but do not achieve thoughtless awareness, are sometimes described as being "quasi-meditative." There are many forms and sub-types of meditation or "quasi meditation."

  • Mindfulness is an approach in which attention is focused on a physical sensation (such as the breath). When thoughts intrude, the individual returns to the focus. Attention is placed on the present moment, rather than on the future or past. This technique may involve a "body scan," in which one focuses on the body from head to feet, concentrating on areas of pain or illness. This is usually performed while lying down. Regular practice is suggested to enhance self-awareness. Analytical meditation differs from other forms of meditation in that the practitioner does not repeat a word over and over, but rather strives to comprehend the deeper meaning of the object of focus. Guided meditation or guided imagery is a technique that directs the imagination towards a conscious goal. Yoga nidra or yogic "sleep" is considered to be a form of guided meditation. Breath meditation involves focusing on the process of inhaling and exhaling. Deep breathing exercises taught in childbirth classes are a variation of this form. Counting while breathing may provide a meditative focus. Visualization involves focusing on a specific place or situation. Walking meditation or kinhin is a Zen Buddhist form of movement meditation in which attention is focused on the feeling of the earth beneath the feet. Sitting meditation is similarly practiced. "Naming" consists of giving a name to physical sensations associated with particular emotions in order to become more self-aware. Numerous other variations and subtypes of meditation exist. Meditation is traditionally distinguished from relaxation based on the state of thoughtless awareness that is said to occur during meditation. Meditation is generally practiced in a quiet environment and in a comfortable position. Sessions vary in length and in number of times practiced daily. It is often recommended to meditate at the same time(s) each day.

  • Qi gong: Qi gong is a type of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that is thought to be at least 4,000 years old. There are two main types of Qi gong practice: internal and external. Internal Qi gong is a self-directed technique that involves the use of sounds, movements, and meditation. Internal Qi gong actively engages people in their own health and well-being, and can be performed with or without the presence of a master instructor. It may be practiced daily to promote health maintenance and disease prevention. External Qi gong, also known as qi emission, is performed by a Qi gong master using his or her hands on a patient, with the aim to project qi for the purpose of healing. There are many different styles of performing Qi gong, and the Chinese government has reported over 5,000 types.

  • Reflexology: Reflexology involves the application of manual pressure to specific points or areas of the feet that are believed to correspond to other parts of the body. Reflexology is only practiced on the feet, and is often used with the intention to relieve stress or prevent/treat physical disorders. Pressure may also be applied to the hands or ears. Reflexology charts consist of pictures of the soles of the feet on which diagrams of corresponding internal organs or parts of the body are drawn. For example, charts may display that the toes correspond to the head and neck, the ball of the foot to the chest and lungs, the arch of the foot to the internal organs, the heel to the sciatic nerve and pelvic area, and the bone along the arch of the foot to the spine. The right side of the body is believed to be reflected in the right foot, and the left side in the left foot. Although most reflexologists formally claim that these relationships are not used to diagnose disease, practicing reflexologists sometimes assert that tenderness or a gritty feeling of the feet represents current or past disease in the corresponding area of the body. Reflexology is sometimes combined with other techniques, and may be used by healthcare practitioners of various disciplines (such as massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists, physical therapists, or nurses). Reflexologists often take a full client history before examining the bare feet systematically, with the patient lying on a treatment table, couch, or reclining in a chair. During treatment, clients typically remain fully clothed, sitting with legs raised or lying on a treatment table. Unlike massage, which involves a generalized rubbing motion, reflexologists use their hands to apply pressure to specific points of the foot. Practitioners start by gently massaging the feet, and then begin to apply pressure to selected reflex points on the feet. The strength of pressure used often varies between practitioners, and from patient to patient. This therapy should never be painful. For lubrication, therapists may use lotion or oils (some which contain aromatherapy products). The reflexologist and client may converse throughout treatment or may remain silent, depending on client preference. Occasionally, practitioners will use instruments on the feet during therapy (for example, sticks of wood, clothespins, combs, rubber balls, rubber bands, tongue depressors, wire brushes, special massagers, hand probes, or clamps). Some reflexology instruction books state that clients may feel a tingling sensation in the part of the body corresponding to the reflex point being stimulated, although this has not been documented scientifically. Individual reflexology sessions often last from 30 to 60 minutes, and may be part of a four to eight week course of therapy. Practitioners range from those who taught themselves from books to individuals who attended training courses and belong to professional associations. Techniques can be learned and self-administered. No widely accepted regulatory systems exist for reflexology, and there is currently no state licensure or training requirement in the United States.

  • Reiki: Multiple styles and historical accounts of Reiki are taught and practiced. In general, there are three levels of certifications/attunements associated with the practice of Reiki. A Level I degree often involves a weekend course that teaches the potential practitioner to transfer "universal life energy" to him/herself and to others. Students are trained in the concepts and hand positions of Reiki. Four ceremonies (attunements) are performed with the goal of opening students' inner healing channels to engage them in the flow of energy. The Level II degree includes an initiation ceremony that aims to enhance the practitioner's ability to interact with the flow of energy. Other training may include distant healing, teaching of symbols, and enhancement of mental/emotional/spiritual healing. In some cases, practitioners receive a Level II degree after "intuitively" receiving Sanskrit symbols from spirit guides that are believed to increase their healing powers. The Reiki Master degree (Level III) takes years of close training with a Reiki Master, and allows the practitioner to teach Reiki to others. Reiki practitioners conduct sessions with the intention to heal specific health disorders, such as a headache, or to improve overall well being. Treatments involve the systematic placing of hands in 12 to 15 varying positions. Hand positions are held for approximately two to five minutes each. Hands may be placed directly on a clothed patient, or held one to two inches above the skin. The practitioner's hands are positioned palm-side down with the fingers and thumb extended. The standard positions may be modified if deemed necessary by the practitioner. The timing of the hand positions may be cut short if the practitioner believes that he or she senses energy flow. All of the body systems can be covered with the hand positions within 30 to 90 minutes. The number of sessions varies from patient to patient based on the judgment of the practitioner. Acute issues, such as sudden digestive upset, may be treated faster than chronic conditions, such as Crohn's disease.

  • Spiritual healing: The use of spiritual healing can be traced as far back as the New Testament of the Bible. In modern times, a number of therapeutic techniques involve spiritual aspects, and there is overlap between these different approaches. Individuals and organizations involved with spiritual healing may use many different approaches and styles. Spiritual healing is often practiced without charge, and many different approaches and durations have been used. Treatments may be given at healing centers, in the medical setting, in hospice programs, in the home, and from a distance.

  • Yoga: Yoga is an ancient system of relaxation, exercise, and healing with origins in Indian philosophy. Early descriptions of yoga are written in Sanskrit, the classical literary language of India. The first known work is "The Yoga Sutras," written more than 2,000 years ago, although yoga may have been practiced up to 5,000 years ago. The initial concepts have been adapted over time through translation and scholarly interpretation, but the fundamental principles describing the practice of yoga remain largely intact. Yoga has been described as "the union of mind, body, and spirit," which addresses physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions towards an overall harmonious state of being. The philosophy of yoga is sometimes pictured as a tree with eight branches. These eight limbs are: pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (physical postures), yama (moral behavior), niyama (healthy habit), dharana (concentration), prathyahara (sense withdrawal), dhyana (contemplation), and samadhi (higher consciousness). There are several schools of yoga practice, such as hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and raja yoga. These schools vary in the proportions of the exercises of the eight limbs. However, they are all similar in working towards the goal of self-realization and control of mental, physiological, and psychological parameters through yogic experiences. In the United States and Europe, hatha yoga is commonly practiced, including pranayama and asanas.


  • Veritable energy medicine:

  • Light therapy / Phototherapy: Light therapy is said to have developed because simply exposing the skin to normal sunlight did not provide enough of the desired results for treating a specific condition. Sunlight contains many different types of light, each of which puts out a particular wavelength and occupies a specific spectrum of light. Light therapy machines concentrate the wavelength that is thought to be beneficial to a person with a particular diagnosis. There are clear advantages in using technically synthesized sunrays. For example, the parameters of intensity and the emitted light spectrum are controllable, and therefore reproducible.

  • Advocates claim that phototherapy decreases populations of bacteria and enzymes, which are usually overabundant during the formation of acne. However, evidence is lacking in this area.

  • Light therapy has been used for delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), however the exact way that light therapy might assist a patient in establishing and maintaining a normal sleep/wake cycle is unknown. It is theorized that bright light provides an extra biological cue that aids the body in awaking.

  • In newborns with neonatal jaundice, research has indicated that light therapy may assist the liver in lowering levels of bilirubin in the blood.

  • In treatment of psoriasis, the affected area of skin is exposed to UV light in order to activate a part of the body's immune system. The light kills T cells, a type of cell in the body's immune system that mediates inflammation. It is proposed that the decrease of T cells in the body slows the process of inflammation and causes the loss of skin cells to slow down.

  • Light therapy has also been used for treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is hypothesized that the length of exposure to sunlight affects the brain's production of serotonin, a chemical that influences mood. However, light therapy's exact mechanism in the treatment of depression is unknown.

  • Magnet therapy: The magnetic field from permanent (static) magnets is different from electromagnetic radiation and may have different effects on the body. Scientific evidence suggests that pulsed electromagnetic fields may be useful in the healing of non-union tibia fractures. However, medical uses of stand-alone magnets (static magnetic fields) have not been sufficiently studied, and benefits for any specific condition have not been proven scientifically. There are numerous published theories regarding the possible medicinal value of static magnets or electromagnetic fields, although high quality scientific research is lacking. Proposed mechanisms of action of magnet therapy include: effects on blood vessels (improvements in blood circulation, increases in oxygen content of blood, alkalinization of bodily fluids, decreases in blood vessel wall deposition of toxic materials or cholesterol plaques, relaxation of blood vessels due to effects on cellular calcium-channels), effects on the nervous system (alterations in nerve impulses, blockage of nerve-cell conduction, reduction of edema (fluid retention), increases in local tissue oxygen, increases in endorphins, relaxation of muscles, changes in cell membranes, and stimulation of acupoints (similar to the proposed activity of acupuncture needles). In some types of traditional Chinese medicine, magnets are believed to establish specific patterns of flow of the body's life force or chi (qi).

  • Music therapy: All forms of music may have therapeutic effects, although music from one's own culture has been suggested as potentially the most effective. Different kinds of music differ in the types of neurological stimulation they evoke. For example, classical music has been found to cause comfort and relaxation while rock music may lead to discomfort. Music may achieve its therapeutic effects in part by elevating the pain threshold. Music may be used in the classroom to aid children in the development of reading and language skills.

  • Receptive methods involve listening to and responding to live or recorded music. Discussion of patient's responses is believed to help the individual express themselves in socially accepted ways and to examine personal issues. Improvisation involves spontaneous creation of music with voice, instruments, or body sounds, which may allow for creative expression, energy release, development of personal insights, and redirection of negative emotions. Recreative experiences involve singing and playing pre-composed music. This is believed to help develop a sense of mastery and increased self-confidence. Composition methods involve creating vocal and instrumental pieces as a means of self-expression.

  • Pacemaker: One or more electrode-tipped wires run from the pacemaker through the blood vessels to the inner heart. If the heart rate is too slow or if it stops, the pacemaker sends out electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to beat at a steady, normal rate. More advanced pacemakers can monitor and pace either the atria or ventricles (or both) in proper sequence to maximize the amount of blood being pumped from the heart.

  • Putative energy medicine:

  • Acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and moxibustion/cupping: The chi (vital energy, life force) proposed by Chinese medicine theory is not electricity and may not be directly detectable with scientific instruments. However, Western science has studied electrical phenomena (ions, electrons, electrical energy) that occur with acupuncture, which may be detectable and appear to accompany the circulation of chi through the body. Acupuncture has been shown to effectively treat some health conditions, including pain. However, the mechanism of action remains unclear. Endogenous opioid-mediated mechanisms of electroacupuncture as used in China only appear to partially explain how acupuncture may function. Acupuncture is purported to also affect the brain's reward systems and blood flow in skin, muscle, and nerves. Research has shown regional effects on neurotransmitter expression as well. However, the existence of "chi" cannot be directly confirmed.

  • Applied kinesiology: AK practitioners may evaluate the health status of patients according to chemical, mental, and structural factors. It is proposed that ill health may result from an imbalance in these factors. The practice of AK may be followed by joint manipulation or mobilization, myofascial therapies, cranial techniques, meridian therapy, clinical nutrition, dietary management, or reflex procedures. Environmental or food sensitivities may be evaluated by muscle testing.

  • Asian bodywork/Shiatsu: Several traditional Asian medical philosophies consider health to be a state of balance in the body, which is maintained by the flow of life energy along specific meridians. A disease state is believed to occur when energy flow is blocked, is deficient, or in excess. A goal of acupressure is to restore normal life energy flow using finger and palm pressure, stretching, massaging, and other bodywork techniques. It is believed that there are 12 primary channels and eight additional pathways circulating life energy throughout the body, maintaining the balance of yin and yang. It is proposed that acupressure may reduce muscle pain and tension, improve blood circulation, release endorphins, and release/eliminate toxins. The mechanism of action may be similar to other techniques such as acupuncture (stimulation of acupoints with needles), moxa (burning with a stick including dried mugwort leaves), or other forms of manual stimulation. Techniques that involve soft tissue manipulation may have similar effects on the body as therapeutic massage.

  • Ayurveda: Similar to other traditions of nature-based medicine, Ayurveda teaches that vital energy, referred to as prana, is the basis of all life and healing. Certain doshas, or psychophysical energies, are believed to predominate in each person from conception to determine their personal energetic constitution, called their prakriti. Each person's prakriti is thought to have an identifiable pattern in which one or more doshas are dominant. There are seven prakritis possible: vata, pitta, or kapha; the combinations of vata-pitta, pitta-kapha, or vata-kapha; and the most complex, vata-pitta-kapha.

  • Craniosacral therapy: Craniosacral therapy practitioners touch areas of the patient lightly to sense the cranial rhythm impulse of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), said to be similar to feeling the pulse of blood vessels. Practitioners then use subtle manipulations over the skull and other areas with the aim of restoring balance by removing restrictions to CSF movement, a process that is proposed to help the body heal itself and improve a wide range of conditions. Treatment sessions usually last between 30 and 60 minutes. There are numerous anecdotes about treatment benefits, although effectiveness and safety have not been thoroughly studied scientifically. Craniosacral therapy may be practiced by osteopathic doctors, chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, or massage therapists. This technique is sometimes referred to as cranio-occipital technique or cranial osteopathy (when practiced by osteopathic doctors), although it is controversial whether there are subtle differences between these approaches.

  • Crystal therapy: Crystal therapy is proposed to assist with physical, emotional, and spiritual balance and healing. According to Tantric texts, there are a number of points in the body from which an individual's "psychic forces" flow. These are called "chakra points." Different hypotheses exist on the actual number (seven is the most common) and location of chakra points. The term chakra originates from the Sanskrit word cakram, meaning wheel or circle. In crystal therapy, crystals of appropriate color and energy may be placed at specific chakra points on the body with the aim to energize and cleanse the body. Electrocrystal therapy is proposed to work by rebalancing the energy field to purportedly promote better health.

  • Healing touch (therapeutic touch): Healing touch (HT) is a combination of hands-on and off-body techniques to influence the flow of energy through a person's biofield. It was developed by Janet Mentgen. HT and the Kreiger-Kunz Method of Therapeutic Touch, a different healing method that also requires the laying on of hands, seem to be the most common forms of biofield therapy or energy-based therapy involving the practitioner's use of mental intention and the placement of hands in specific sequences either on the body or above it in the recipient's energy field.

  • Meditation: The scientific research community has proposed numerous mechanisms of action and potential benefits of meditation. It has been suggested that meditation reduces activity of the sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response), leading to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, slowed breathing, and increased muscle relaxation. Multiple studies of transcendental meditation® have noted decreased metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and oxygen consumption. Changes in blood flow to the brain and in brain wave patterns have been reported, as well as alterations in hormone levels. Decreased lactic acid levels have also been reported. Higher quality studies on the different forms of meditation are necessary before a firm conclusion can be reached.

  • Qi gong: Qi gong is believed to be beneficial for three principal purposes: spiritual enlightenment, medical care, and martial arts/self-defense. Medical Qi gong can involve internal or external techniques, and often includes five steps: meditation, cleansing, recharging/strengthening, circulating, and dispersing qi. Each step includes specific exercises, meditations, and sounds. Qi gong is intended to be harmonious with the natural rhythms of the environment, and has been described as "a way of working with life energy."

  • Reflexology: Exactly how reflexology might work remains unclear. Several possible explanations have been proposed, however none have been scientifically proven. One theory is that the body contains an invisible life force, or energy field, that when blocked can result in illness. It is proposed that stimulating nerve endings in the foot can unblock and increase the flow of vital energy to various parts of the body, and promote healing. This account is similar to theories behind other techniques in which mapped points are treated to affect corresponding remote body parts or conditions, such as acupuncture or acupressure. A different theory is that pressure exerted by reflexologists may release endorphins (compounds that alter pain sensations). Yet another explanation is that compression of specific points ("cutaneo-organ reflex points") stimulates nerves that form connections with other parts of the body, and may have distant effects as part of a reflex arc. Other theories include promotion of lymphatic flow or dissolving of accumulated uric acid crystals via direct stimulation of the feet. Reliable scientific research in these areas is limited.

  • Reiki: Reiki practitioners believe that therapeutic effects of reiki techniques are obtained from a "universal life energy" that provides strength, harmony, and balance to the body and mind. Life energy is thought to be transferred to patients when practitioners place their hands on or directly above treatment areas. This life energy is believed to vitalize organs and cells, and to release trapped negative energy. Reiki practitioners do not view themselves as the sources of life energy, rather, they believe that human energy flows through meridians (or pathways) in the body that can be sensed by trained individuals. A disturbance in the flow of this energy is thought to potentially be caused by physical illnesses or negative emotions. Reiki practitioners aim to channel life energy to problem areas where the patient's energy flow is sensed as being disrupted. Reiki practitioners believe that reiki can treat symptoms and enable patients to feel enlightened with improved mental clarity, well-being, and spirituality. Reiki is sometimes administered to patients who are dying with the goal of instilling a sense of peace. It has been proposed that reiki may lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and endocrine (hormonal) systems, stimulate endorphins, or affect skin temperature and blood hemoglobin levels. However, these properties have not been well studied or clearly demonstrated in scientific studies.

  • Spiritual healing: Various theories have been proposed by healers and healing organizations to explain how spiritual healing techniques might work. Reliable scientific study of these theories is limited, likely due to difficulties designing research in this area. Some healers suggest that illness is caused by imbalances in the body, and that channeling of "energy" via the healer to the patient may be therapeutic. In this model, spiritual healing is considered to be a direct interaction between the healer and an ill individual, with the intention of bringing about an improvement or cure of an illness. The healer is generally not considered to be the source of healing energy, but rather to serve as a vehicle for channeling greater forms of energy or power to the patient. Depending on the technique, it is believed that energy can be passed through physical contact or distant healing. Distant approaches may include directing compassionate thoughts, intentions, or prayers towards others. Participation by the patient may also be included, and spiritual healers may encourage visualization techniques, prayer, or positive thinking. Visualization techniques may include imagining the face of a loved one or a calm nature setting. Most spiritual healers do not diagnose specific illnesses, and may not follow the disease categories used in Western medicine. More often, the aim is to help patients in more general non-specific terms, by increasing well-being or quality of life.

  • Yoga: Yoga techniques use gravity, leverage, and tension through holding poses for varying lengths of time. Ancient texts describe rapid breathing (kapalabhati) as cleansing and stimulating, and slow breathing (nadisuddhi), particularly through alternate nostrils, as calming. Yoga has undergone much scientific study, with various psychological and physical theories suggested. In human research, yoga has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, increase breath holding time and lung capacity, improve muscle relaxation and body composition, cause weight loss, and increase overall physical endurance. Yoga may positively affect levels of brain or blood chemicals, such as monoamines, melatonin, stress hormones (cortisol), and GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). Changes in several mental functions, including perception, attention, cognition, processing of sensory information, and visual perception, are described in human research. It is proposed that health may be affected by mind-body interactions that occur through techniques such as yoga, and that daily practice of yoga may help to maintain wellness.


  • Veritable energy medicine:

  • Light therapy / Phototherapy: It is recommended that patients undertake light-therapy under the supervision of a qualified professional, rather than attempting to self-medicate. Individuals who are taking photosensitizing drugs should not use light therapy, except as explicitly directed by a doctor. Individuals with a strong family history of skin cancer should exercise extreme caution when considering phototherapy. Some types of light may cause progressive damage to human skin, mediated by genetic damage, collagen damage, as well as destruction of vitamin A and Vitamin C in the skin, and free radical generation. Visible blue light has been suggested to cause DNA breakages, but available studies have not confirmed this, and enzymes within the cells are believed to repair the DNA breakages reasonably well. Consumers should be cautious when considering medical claims about light therapy from manufacturers. In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued several warnings to manufacturers of light therapy products who claim to offer a medical cure without research to substantiate these claims.

  • Magnet therapy: Individuals with implantable medical devices such as heart pacemakers, defibrillators, insulin pumps, or hepatic artery infusion pumps should avoid exposure to magnets, as magnets may affect the functioning of some equipment. Some publications discourage the use of static magnets or electromagnetic field therapy during pregnancy or in individuals with myasthenia gravis or bleeding disorders, and suggest that magnets may cause dizziness, nausea, or prolong poor wound healing or bleeding. Scientific research is limited in these areas. Magnet therapy is not advised as the sole treatment for potentially serious medical conditions, and should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven methods. Patients are advised to discuss magnet therapy with a qualified healthcare provider before starting treatment.

  • Music therapy: While certain music may help induce relaxation and peaceful states, other music may actually cause agitation. There is evidence that music that reflects the listener's personal preference is more likely to have desired effects. It is possible that music through headphones during medical procedures could interfere with the patient's cooperation with procedures.

  • Pacemaker: It is recommended by the American Heart Association to limit exposure to devices that may interfere with pulse generators, such as cellular phones, CB radios, electric blankets, and microwaves. It is normal for the surgical wound to be somewhat painful and swollen for a few days after the pacemaker implantation procedure. This can usually be controlled with medications, such as ultram (Tramadol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin®). The wound may also appear slightly red in color for a few days. However, if the area of redness enlarges, a doctor should be notified due to the potential for a serious infection.

  • Putative energy medicine:

  • Acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and moxibustion/cupping: Acupuncture needles must be sterile in order to avoid disease transmission (most practitioners now use disposable needles). Acupuncture should be avoided in the following conditions: valvular heart disease, known bleeding disorders, use of anticoagulants (blood thinners), pregnancy (may induce unwanted labor and possible miscarriage), systemic or local infection, pain of unknown medical origin, medical condition of unknown origin such as dermatologic lesions, in neurologic patients (e.g. severe polyneuropathy or paraplegia) or following certain forms of neurosurgery, or on areas that have received radiation therapy. Caution is advised in patients with pulmonary disease, elderly or medically compromised patients, diabetics (due to poor circulation), or in patients with a history of seizures. Wrist-ankle acupuncture may improve metabolism of blood sugar and blood-lipids, and a healthcare provider should monitor these levels in diabetic patients as medication adjustments may be necessary. Electroacupuncture should be avoided in people with arrhythmia or pacemakers.

  • Applied kinesiology: AK is generally believed to be free of direct adverse effects, although the potential exists for it to be harmful indirectly by delaying the appropriate diagnosis of serious conditions. AK should not be relied upon as the sole diagnostic or therapeutic approach to potentially serious conditions instead of more proven methods, and it should not delay the time it takes to speak with a qualified healthcare provider about such conditions.

  • Asian bodywork/Shiatsu: With proper training, self-administered acupressure and acupressure performed by an experienced therapist appear to be generally safe. No serious long-term complications have been reported in the scientific literature. Hand nerve injury and herpes zoster ("shingles") cases have been reported after shiatsu massage. Forceful acupressure may cause bruising.

  • Ayurveda: Safety is the main concern when considering herbal preparations. Ayurvedic herbs are potent, and some contain constituents that could be potentially toxic if taken in large amounts or over a long period of time. For this reason, the supervision of a trained practitioner is recommended and encouraged. Examples of contraindications with use of Ayurveda include traumatic injuries, acute pain, advanced disease stages, and individuals requiring surgery. Ayurvedic preparations may change the bioavailability of allopathic drugs; a medical professional should be consulted before combined use of these agents. It is important not to self-diagnose, but rather to work with a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner who can assess individual contraindications of Ayurvedic treatments.

  • Craniosacral therapy: The safety of craniosacral therapy has not been thoroughly studied scientifically. Although the movements of this technique are usually gentle, there may be a small risk of stroke, nervous system damage, bleeding in the head, intracranial aneurysm, or increased pressure in the brain. The following people should approach craniosacral therapy with caution: individuals with recent head trauma or skull fracture, individuals with diseases that affect the brain or spinal cord, individuals with conditions in which a change in pressure in the brain would be dangerous, and individuals with disorders of blood clotting. In theory, craniosacral therapy may make some existing symptoms worse. Adverse results have been reported in patients with traumatic brain syndrome. There are anecdotal reports of diarrhea, headache, and increased anger after treatment. It has been proposed that craniosacral therapy may enhance the effects of drugs used for diabetes, epilepsy, or psychiatric disorders, although this has not been tested in scientific studies. Craniosacral therapy should not be relied on as the sole treatment (instead of more proven approaches) for potentially severe conditions, and it should not delay consultation with an appropriate healthcare provider about a symptom or condition.

  • Crystal therapy: Crystal therapy is generally believed to be safe for most individuals. Electrocrystal therapy uses electromagnetic fields and electrical equipment. Safety has not been thoroughly studied, and therefore the risks are not clear. Because these techniques are not well-researched, they should not be used as the sole treatment (in place of more proven approaches) for a severe illness. Patients should not delay consultation with an appropriate healthcare provider for a potentially serious symptom or condition.

  • Healing touch (therapeutic touch): Healing touch should not be regarded as a substitute for established medical treatments. Use cautiously if pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Meditation: Most forms of meditation are regarded as being safe in healthy individuals. There are rare reports of adverse effects in individuals with underlying mental illnesses, including episodes of mania or depersonalization. Some publications warn that intensive meditation or retreats may lead to disorientation, anxiety, or depression. Individuals with psychiatric disorders should consult with their primary mental healthcare professional(s) before starting a program of meditation, and should explore how meditation may or may not fit in with their current treatment plan. An increased risk of seizure has been reported in a poorly described study, and therefore people at risk for seizures should speak with their primary healthcare professional before starting a meditation program. The practice of meditation should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole treatment approach to illnesses.

  • Qi gong: Qi gong is generally considered to be safe in most people when learned from a qualified instructor. In theory, underlying psychiatric disorders may worsen with unsupervised internal Qi gong practice. An allergic skin reaction was reported in one group of Qi gong students, but the cause was not clear. In cases of potentially serious conditions, Qi gong should not be used as the sole treatment instead of more proven therapies, and should not delay the time it takes to see an appropriate healthcare provider.

  • Reflexology: Reflexology is discouraged in patients with recent or healing foot fractures, unhealed wounds, or active gout flares affecting the foot. Patients with osteoarthritis affecting the foot or ankle, or severe vascular disease of the legs or feet, should seek a medical consultation prior to starting reflexology. In general, patients should inform their medical practitioners of any existing medical problems or medications. Some reflexology texts note specific conditions that theoretically may be negatively affected by this therapy, although scientific data is lacking in these areas. These conditions include diabetes, heart disease or the presence of a pacemaker, unstable blood pressure, cancer, active infections, past episodes of fainting (syncope), mental illness, gallstones, or kidney stones. Caution is advised in pregnant women, due to reports that rigorous stimulation of the feet may lead to uterine contractions. Reflexology should not delay diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies.

  • Reiki: Reiki is not recommended as the sole treatment approach for potentially serious medical conditions, and should not delay the time it takes to consult with a healthcare professional or receive established therapies. Serious adverse effects have currently not been reported in association with reiki. Some practitioners believe that reiki should be used cautiously in individuals with psychiatric illnesses due to a risk of worsening underlying psychopathology, although this risk has not been formally reported in the available published literature.

  • Spiritual healing: Spiritual healing should not be used as the only treatment approach for medical or psychiatric conditions, and should not delay the time it takes to consider more proven therapies. Spiritual healing techniques appear to be otherwise safe. Many medical traditions include spiritual aspects as a part of their overall treatment approach for ill patients.

  • Yoga: Yoga is generally considered to be safe in healthy individuals when practiced appropriately, and has been well tolerated in studies with few side effects, such as muscle soreness. Yoga can be adapted for a wide variety of specific needs, including for people who are bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound. Yoga techniques are believed to be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding when practiced under the guidance of expert instruction (the popular Lamaze techniques are based on yogic breathing). However, poses that put pressure on the uterus, such as abdominal twists, should be avoided in pregnancy. Some positions and postures should not be used by people with certain conditions or illnesses. For instance, twisting postures may not be appropriate for a person who has breathing difficulties. Therapy should be exercised under well-qualified guidance. Patients with disc disease of the spine, fragile or atherosclerotic neck arteries, risk for blood clots, extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, detachment of the retina, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, or cervical spondylitis should avoid some inverted poses. Certain yoga breathing techniques should be avoided in people with heart or lung disease. Some experts advise caution in people with a history of psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), due to a risk of worsening symptoms, although this has not been clearly shown in studies. People with medical conditions should speak with a qualified healthcare professional before starting yoga. Rare side effects are described in case reports, including physical damage due to prolonged postures: nerve or vertebral disc damage (due to prolonged postures, sometimes involving the legs), eye damage and blurred vision including worsening of glaucoma (due to increased eye pressure with headstands), and stroke/blood vessel blockage (due to decreased blood flow to the brain or other body parts from postures). Lung and breathing problems have been reported, possibly resulting in death.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov.

  2. Energy Medicine Institute. www.energymed.org.

  3. National Institutes of Health. www.nih.gov.

  4. World Health Organization. www.who.int/en.

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017