Shingles, or Herpes Zoster, is a very common and painful condition due to reactivation of a dormant virus in our body. While most patients recover completely, some are left with lingering pain because of persistent nerve root irritation, so called neuropathic pain. As an oncologist, I have used acupuncture for pain management in the case of post-herpetic neuralgia. Early intervention by initiating acupuncture several weeks after shingles is usually very effective in my experience. After acupuncture treatments, many patients become pain-free and discontinue pain medications.
Let me share with you the following case stories:
1) A 60 year old nurse manager from a local hospital came for alternative therapy for post-herpetic neuralgia. She had had shingles 2 months earlier which left her significant pain in the right lower abdominal area, roughly corresponding to the T10, T11, T12 dermatomes. She was on a combination of Lyrica, percocet and Lidoderm patch and her pain was fairly well controlled. She raised two legitimate questions: How long do I have to take these medications and is there any alternative? She discontinued all her pain medications after five weekly acupuncture treatments. A follow-up phone call a few months later showed no pain recurrence.
2) An 82 year old lady presented with post-herpetic neuralgia of 5 months duration. Her pain was located between the thoracic spine and medial border of the right scapula. She was on Duragesic patch, Lidoderm patch and Vicodin. She discontinued pain medications after four acupuncture sessions and became pain-free after four more treatments.
When we look closely at the location or distribution of this neuropathic pain, it really does not follow any particular nerve root or peripheral nerve; rather, it falls frequently on one or more of the acupuncture meridians. This maybe the reason why acupuncture is very effective for this condition.