Shingles and Acupuncture/TCM treatment

July 1, 2015

By Cheng Wang, MD(China), PhD, L.Ac, LOM

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful condition caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV) which also causes chickenpox. It is characterized by a painful skin rash with blisters in a limited area on one side of the body, often in the stripe. When the body is infected with VZV, an acute chickenpox firstly occurs. And once the episode of chickenpox has resolved, the virus is not eliminated from the body immediately but remains in nerve tissue [1] and may cause shingles in some years or some decades.

At the beginning, fever, headache, fatigue and chills may occur, but these signs and symptoms are nonspecific and may be incorrectly diagnosed [2] [3]. After one or two days, the initial phase is followed by the skin rash and blisters. Although the rash usually heals within two or three weeks, the residual nerve pain, often a tingling-type pain, lasts for months or years. And this condition is called postherpetic neuralgia.

For prevention, vaccines are available for chickenpox and for shingles. Zostavax is a live vaccine for VZV. According to a systematic review concluded by Cochrane Library, Zostavax can reduce the absolute risk of shingles by 1.75%, a 50% relative risk reduction. [4] But those certain groups including pregnant women, infants younger than 12 months and patients with immune system disease should not take these vaccines.

The aims of the treatment are to limit the severity and duration of pain, shorten the duration of a shingles episode and reduce complications [5]. Antiviral medications, if taken soon after symptoms begin, can shorten the length of time that shingles episode lasts and lessen the severity of the episode. Sometimes, analgesics such as acetaminophen or morphine may be needed to relieve the pain that cannot be tolerated. The blisters cannot be scratched, since they can then become infected. Obviously, the rashes and blisters are easy to be healed, but the practical problem lies in how to cure postherpetic neuralgia. Fortunately, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are very effective in treating shingles and the accompanying postherpetic neuralgia. In fact, acupuncture and TCM have been used for centuries in the treatment of herpes zoster, helping countless patients recover and maintain health.

According to the theories of TCM, health maintains when all the organs and meridian systems are balanced and working together. This balance greatly depends on the sufficiency and free flow of Qi, a kind of energy that provides power to resist pathogenic factors and promotes blood circulation. When Qi is insufficient, pathogenic factors like Dampness and Warm accumulate at the skin, resulting in the block of Qi and stasis of blood which finally give rise to the appearance of shingles.

Based on these theories, your practitioner of acupuncture will create a specific treatment plan designed to address your shingles and boost your overall health and vitality. There are several methods in acupuncture therapy to address shingles, such as regular needling, electric acupuncture, scalp acupuncture, blood letting puncturing, acupoint injection, etc. By taking one or more of these techniques, Dampness and Warm will be dissipated from the body and the obstruction of meridian systems will be removed, so that Qi and blood can freely circulate around the body. When Qi is invigorated and the body regains its balance, the disease disappears naturally and gradually.

Moreover, modern experimental studies have indicated that acupuncture can stimulate the stress response system and adjust the neuron-humoral system inner the body, which may enhance the function of immune system and contribute to alleviate pain. In addition, acupuncture has the function of limiting vascular permeability and restraining the exudation of inflammatory substance.

In brief, acupuncture is the fist choice to cure shingles not only because its definite effectiveness and lack of adverse effect, but also because it is simple, natural and cheap.

1. Johnson, RW & Dworkin, RH (2003). "Clinical review: Treatment of herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia". BMJ 326 (7392): 748–750.
2. Dworkin RH, Johnson RW, Breuer J et al. (2007). "Recommendations for the management of herpes zoster". Clin. Infect. Dis. 44 Suppl 1: S1–26.
3. Zamula E (May–June 2001). "Shingles: an unwelcome encore". FDA Consumer 35 (3): 21–25. Retrieved 2010-01-05. Revised June 2005.
4. Gagliardi AM, Gomes Silva BN, Torloni MR, Soares BG (2012). "Vaccines for preventing herpes zoster in older adults". In Gagliardi, Anna MZ. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 10: CD008858.
5. Tyring SK (2007). "Management of herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia". J Am Acad Dermatol 57 (6 Suppl): S136–S142.

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