Trial Examines the Effects of Reiki Therapy on Cardiac Surgery Patients

Looks at anxiety, depression, sleep, pain and more

Before Sandra Zampino, BSN, RN, HC-BC, had back surgery in 2002, she was given reiki therapy, and it significantly reduced her anxiety. When she became a nurse, Zampino decided to “pay it forward” and become reiki-certified. She incorporated the Japanese energy-based healing technique into her clinical practice, and she continues to utilize reiki and other holistic modalities today as a clinical navigator in Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute.

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In 2014, Zampino began a research project to examine the effects of reiki and manual therapies in a hospital setting after open heart surgery. “There is limited evidence of outcomes and weak study designs when providing holistic modalities in hospital settings,” she says. “We wanted to see if reiki and manual therapies improved relaxation, sleep, emotional state and pain after open heart surgery.”

Study design and methods

Zampino was able to launch the study thanks in part to a former patient whom she provided reiki therapy. He was so pleased with the results that he made a donation, which was used to train nurses in reiki and manual therapies. It also contributed to funding Zampino’s research, as did a Nursing Research Fund (NURF) award from Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Nursing Research & Innovation.

The prospective, randomized controlled trial included 272 participants divided into two groups: a usual care group and an intervention group. Patients were randomized pre-operatively, with the usual care group given quiet time and the intervention group receiving reiki and manual therapies for three consecutive days for 20 minutes.

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The study participants were first-time open heart or robotic heart surgery patients undergoing coronary artery, cardiac valve or aortic root procedures. Anxiety, depression and sleep were assessed at baseline and after the three-day intervention or usual care was completed. Tools utilized for the assessments included the Brief Depression Inventory, the Richards-Campbell Sleep Questionnaire and a Likert scale for pain intensity gathered from the electronic medical record. Zampino and a team of nurses, most of whom are reiki-certified, also examined hospital length of stay, 30-day readmission rates and new onset, post-operative atrial fibrillation rate for both groups.

Trial findings and implications

The study revealed no clinical differences among the usual care and intervention groups. However, holistic modalities, when preferred by patients, may offer patients a restful hospital experience. In addition, Zampino says that future research is needed to determine the effects of reiki and manual therapies when quiet time is not consistently offered and in a larger sample to evaluate the intervention effect on clinical events that occur at a low rate (e.g. rehospitalization or atrial fibrillation).