Acupuncture for shingles: what does the evidence say?

Shingles is a horrible business! So I was really pleased to see that some evidence is starting to build up around acupuncture for shingles.

Shingles

Shingles is an infection of the herpes zoster virus, the same one that causes chicken pox, but in this case it’s in the nerves, which is why its notorious as such a painful condition. Often it follows the path of a nerve around one side of your torso, which is bad enough, but it can also happen on the face or other very uncomfortable parts of the body.

If you had chicken pox as a child, shingles can flare up in adulthood if your immune system dips due to ageing or going through a very stressful or draining time in your life. The virus has been dormant in your system all that time, and finally manages to get the upper hand over your immune system.

Pain, itching and a weeping rash are common symptoms.

Postherpetic neuralgia

Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) can be an unfortunate complication of shingles, with a burning pain that can continue long after your shingles rash itself has cleared.

Risk factors for postherpetic neuralgia include being over 50, having severe shingles or shingles on the face or torso, having other existing conditions such as diabetes, or not receiving prompt treatment for your shingles.

How much research has been done on acupuncture for shingles?

Individual studies can produce conflicing answers, so it’s great if the research has advanced to the stage where scientists have done the kind of studies that are called systematic reviews or meta analyses. These are studies of studies, investigating all of the studies that have been done on this topic, and trying to draw an overall conclusion.

Often we’ll find that acupuncture research is not yet at the stage where this level of research has been done yet, so in this case I was happy to see a number of recent meta analysis studies about acupuncture for shingles and/or acupuncture for postherpetic neuralgia.

What does the research say about acupuncture for shingles (or herpes zoster, HZ)?

Overall, the researchers concluded that more research is still needed, but based on what is available so far, they did have some positive things to say:

Acupuncture may be effective for patients with HZ. Nevertheless, this finding should be validated by conducting high-quality trials with a larger sample size.

Conclusion of a meta analysis in 2021, after analysing the results of 21 randomised controlled trials

And what about acupuncture for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)?

Acupuncture may reduce pain intensity, relieve anxiety and improve quality of life in patients with PHN. Further randomized trials with larger sample sizes and of higher methodological quality are needed to confirm these results.

Conclusion of a meta analysis in 2018

There was not enough evidence to suggest that acupuncture was superior to pharmacologic therapy in improving global impression or life quality. No adverse effects about acupuncture were reported. In all, acupuncture is safe and might be effective in pain relieving for patients with PHN. Given the low quality of included studies, the results are not conclusive and more large-scale RCTs with high quality are needed.

Conclusion of a meta analysis in 2019

Book in for some acupuncture

If you’re suffering with the horrors of shingles, you have my sympathy! If you’d like to book in for some acupuncture, get in touch, or click here to book:

References

2018 study: Wang Y, Li W, Peng W, Zhou J, Liu Z. Acupuncture for postherpetic neuralgia: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(34):e11986. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000011986

2019 study: Pei W, Zeng J, Lu L, Lin G, Ruan J. Is acupuncture an effective postherpetic neuralgia treatment? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Pain Res. 2019;12:2155-2165
https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S199950

2021 study: Cui Y, Wang F, Li H, Zhang X, Zhao X, Wang D. Efficacy of Acupuncture for Herpes Zoster: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Complement Med Res. 2021;28(5):463-472. English. doi: 10.1159/000515138. Epub 2021 Apr 6. PMID: 33823512.

Image by Martin B├╝denbender from Pixabay