Shingles, Herpes Zoster

Shingles, the common name for herpes zoster, is a viral disease characterised by a painful skin rash with itchy blisters which contain the virus.

The blisters occur in a limited area on one side of the body, often in a line. The infection, caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), first occurs in children and young adults as an acute episode of ‘chickenpox’. After the episode of chickenpox has resolved, the varicella zoster virus is not eliminated from the body. It remains dormant in the nervous system. Many years after the initial infection, the virus may travel down the nerve causing a viral infection of the skin in the area of the nerve. The rash usually heals in 2-4 weeks, but some sufferers experience pain for months or years. This condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

Why the infection reappears in some people and not others is not fully understood, but it is suspected that increasing age, stress and lowered immunity may play a role. You cannot catch shingles from another person if you have already had chickenpox. But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven’t had chickenpox before.

Conventional treatment involves covering the rash to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others, medication for pain relief, and in severe cases, antiviral medication.

Acupuncture for Shingles, Herpes Zoster

A World Health Organization review and analysis of controlled acupuncture clinical trials includes Herpes Zoster as one of the “conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed”. Further studies have shown that acupuncture may help relieve symptoms in herpes zoster sufferers by:

  • Facilitating and expediting crust formation of the blisters
  • Stimulating production of pain relieving substances in the body – endorphins
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Regulating immunity
  • Increasing local circulation and reducing swelling

See also:

Treating Shingles, Herpes Zoster
“If you get shingles, it is likely that you are already run down or suffering from stress. Acupuncture can help to improve your underlying health as well as providing relief from the symptoms.”

Judy Bowen-Jones Lic Ac BSc Hons Ac MBAcC
Further Information

World Health Organization 2003. Acupuncture: Review and Analysis on Controlled Clinical Trials http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/pdf/s4926e/s4926e.pdf

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For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.

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