Herpes zoster, known as shingles, is a viral infection affecting nerve roots and skin. The causative factor is the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Although shingles are not life-threatening, they can be painful and disruptive to daily quality of life. Antiviral drugs and pain medications are the standard of care in western Medicine and are typically used to treat shingles; some people turn to alternative therapies, such as Acupuncture, for relief.
Once recovered from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nerve tissue. The virus can reactivate later in life, leading to shingles.
The exact triggers that cause VZV to reactivate have yet to be fully understood. A weakened immune system due to aging, stress, illness, medications, or certain medical conditions can increase the risk of shingles. Additionally, having had chickenpox at a young age or being exposed to someone with shingles can also increase the risk of developing shingles later in life.
A significant proportion (18% to 41%) of patients suffering from Herpes Zoster (HZ) experience intense or very intense pain at presentation, frequently persisting after the healing of the rash .
Western Medicine treats this condition with the use of antiviral and analgesic medications. The antiviral relieves pain and decreases the acute phase by depressing the virus replication, while the analgesic helps to relieve pain. Often shingles are benefitted by using Acupuncture and natural herbal Medicine.
Acupuncture has been regulating energy and helping various disease states for over 3,000 years. These tiny needles can stimulate and control the body’s energy. Acupuncture affects the flow of energy, or qi, throughout the body, which may promote healing.
Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, shingles in TCM are related to the liver and gallbladder systems in TCM theory. The liver is responsible for spreading and regulating qi throughout the body, and the gallbladder is responsible for storing & excreting bile. When Qi is blocked or stagnant in the liver and gallbladder meridians, it can lead to various symptoms, including skin eruptions such as shingles.
Liver Qi stagnation can lead to heat and may be involved in developing shingles, and the gallbladder meridian may also be affected. The gallbladder channel runs along the sides of the body and across the scalp, and it is associated with decision-making and judgment.
In TCM, treatment for shingles may involve Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, and dietary changes that aim to strengthen and regulate the liver and gallbladder systems and promote the circulation of Qi. Acupuncture points on the liver and gallbladder meridians can stimulate circulation and clear blockages. Acupuncture helps to restore balance to this energy flow by stimulating specific acupuncture points. Acupuncture can have the effect of reducing pain and inflammation and boosting the immune system.
Herbal formulas are often used with Acupuncture to support the condition, and dietary changes to support liver and gallbladder health may be beneficial, including reducing the consumption of fatty and greasy foods, alcohol, and sugar and increasing the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Acupuncture’s effect on shingles is noted in several trials. A randomized controlled trial published in the journal Phototherapy Research in 2011 found that Acupuncture was more effective than antiviral medication alone in reducing pain and other symptoms of shingles. Another randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2014 found that Acupuncture combined with herbal Medicine was more effective than antiviral medication alone in reducing pain and speeding up the healing process.
Modern research has also shed light on the potential mechanisms of Acupuncture. Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and other neurotransmitters that help to regulate pain perception. Acupuncture may also help to reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Shingles can be a painful and disruptive condition, but treatment with Acupuncture may offer relief for many patients at Acupuncture Zen in Delray Beach.
 Watson CP, Oaklander AL: Postherpetic neuralgia. Pain Pract. 2002, 2: 295-307. 10.1046/j.1533-2500.2002.02039.x.