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 Energy Medicine: An Overview - NCCAM : Energy Medicine: An Overview 
 
Introduction

Energy medicine is a domain in CAM that deals with energy fields of two types1:

  • Veritable, which can be measured
  • Putative, which have yet to be measured

The veritable energies employ mechanical vibrations (such as sound) and electromagnetic forces, including visible light, magnetism, monochromatic radiation (such as laser beams), and rays from other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. They involve the use of specific, measurable wavelengths and frequencies to treat patients.2

In contrast, putative energy fields (also called biofields) have defied measurement to date by reproducible methods. Therapies involving putative energy fields are based on the concept that human beings are infused with a subtle form of energy. This vital energy or life force is known under different names in different cultures, such as qi in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), ki in the Japanese Kampo system, doshas in Ayurvedic medicine, and elsewhere as prana, etheric energy, fohat, orgone, odic force, mana, and homeopathic resonance.3 Vital energy is believed to flow throughout the material human body, but it has not been unequivocally measured by means of conventional instrumentation. Nonetheless, therapists claim that they can work with this subtle energy, see it with their own eyes, and use it to effect changes in the physical body and influence health.

Practitioners of energy medicine believe that illness results from disturbances of these subtle energies (the biofield). For example, more than 2,000 years ago, Asian practitioners postulated that the flow and balance of life energies are necessary for maintaining health and described tools to restore them. Herbal medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion, and cupping, for example, are all believed to act by correcting imbalances in the internal biofield, such as by restoring the flow of qi through meridians to reinstate health. Some therapists are believed to emit or transmit the vital energy (external qi) to a recipient to restore health.4

Examples of practices involving putative energy fields include:
  • Reiki and Johrei, both of Japanese origin
  • Qi gong, a Chinese practice
  • Healing touch, in which the therapist is purported to identify imbalances and correct a client's energy by passing his or her hands over the patient
  • Prayer specifically for health purposes--such as intercessory prayer, in which a person intercedes through prayer on behalf of another

In the aggregate, these approaches are among the most controversial of CAM practices because neither the external energy fields nor their therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly by any biophysical means. Yet, energy medicine is gaining popularity in the American marketplace and has become a subject of investigations at some academic medical centers. A recent National Center for Health Statistics survey indicated that approximately 1 percent of the participants had used Reiki, 0.5 percent had used qi gong, 4.6 percent had used some kind of healing ritual, and approximately 30 percent had had others pray for their health.5

Scope of the Research
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