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ARC: Acupuncture and Physical Therapy
Relief From Shingles...
Condition Treated

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is known to cause two diseases: chickenpox (varicella) and shingles (herpes zoster). Chickenpox is a common contagious disease in children that usually has a benign course. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the latent VZV, and is commonly seen in those over age 50. Weakening of the immune system from aging can make people more susceptible to shingles. A particular problem is that patients with the disease go on to have persistent pain afterwards known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). It is thought that about 15% of patients continue to have pain one month after the healing of an acute herpetic rash, with about one quarter of these still experiencing pain after one full year.

 

The risk of post-herpetic neuralgia increases with age. It can be as high as 50% in patients over 60 years of age and 75% in those over 75 years of age. According to a study from Oxford and Flinders, published in the British Journal of General Practice, patients treated with the most popular antivirals and corticosteroids, versus placebo, had no statistically significant reduction in pain after one month, nor after six months. Perhaps this is why more patients are considering alternative treatments in addition to the care provided by their primary care physicians. Acupuncture, for example, can stimulate the immune system. We find that by the time most PHN patients arrive in our office, it has become a chronic condition, which usually means they experience both primary and secondary pain. The primary problem arises from pain residual from shingles that damage the nerve, causing spontaneous firing of the nerve fiber, hence causing constant pain. The secondary pain is pain from muscle tension and joint stiffness due to chronic postural deviation (guarding, adaptation, etc.).

 

Our intervention can significantly relieve the secondary problems. Acupuncture along the damaged nerve route can depolarize the abnormal electrical imbalance of the nerve, normalizing the electrical balance, which corrects or reduces the spontaneous firing of the nerve and reduces pain. Also, scarring from shingles can cause fibrosis (adhesion) along the nerve route. Acupuncture can improve the circulation of the damaged area, while adding physical therapy techniques can soften the adhesion, reducing the entrapment of the nerve involved. Acupuncture combined with electrical stimulation can change permeability of the local tissue, improve circulation, change polarity of electrical imbalance, thereby stimulating tissue healing. These all can lead to significant pain reduction in the PHN patient.