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

Acupuncture for coronavirus

What to do if you have coronavirus

Before I start talking about acupuncture for coronavirus, the first thing to say is that if you think you may currently be infected with the novel coronavirus which causes Covid-19, you should most definitely follow the Australian government’s advice for people in your situation.

To limit the spread of the virus, you will be asked to self-isolate, so you won’t be able to receive acupuncture for coronavirus while you are actively infected.

The history of acupuncture for infectious diseases

If we look back to earlier eras, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine have a long history of working to support people’s health during outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Many diseases that we no longer have to live with in developed countries were common during the thousands of years where Chinese medical wisdom developed and accumulated. The classic texts, dating back for hundreds and thousands of years, often discuss approaches to fevers and talk about the body being invaded by by ‘external pathogenic factors’.

Acupuncture for coronavirus – not during active infection!

The traditional diagnostic framework we use in Chinese medicine today often lists symptoms that I would never expect to see in my modern practice – people that sick in the modern era are in a hospital rather than walking into my acupuncture clinic!

And this is true for an active coronavirus infection. Limiting the spread of the infection, and providing conventional medical treatment for extreme cases, including hospitalisation and intensive care if necessary, are the right approaches if you are currently ill with the coronavirus.

Chinese and western medicine side by side

In modern China, traditional Chinese medicine is often much more integrated with western medical approaches than in Australia, and both are often offered side by side in a hospital context.

I understand that this is happening in some cases in China during the hospital treatment of coronavirus patients. It will be interesting to see the medical research papers which come out at the end of this experience, assessing the impact of using both systems hand in hand.

Supporting your lung health

Like everyone else, I’m following all the advice about coronavirus prevention – handwashing, trying not to touch my face, and so on.

I love this video about supporting lung health by Peter Deadman, who is a hugely esteemed acupuncture practitioner, teacher and writer from the UK.

It’s a little 20 minute routine using easy Qi Kung exercises, of simple movements, and tapping the relevant meridians, or energy pathways, to stimulate your lung energy. I’ve added this into my daily practice and I’m enjoying it a lot.

In Chinese medicine the Wei Qi, or the Defensive Qi, which is a similar concept to the immune system, is closely associated with your lung health.

And in general, all the good lifestyle choices which support your health normally, also support your immune system – whether it’s eating plenty of fruit and veg, or getting a good night’s sleep.

So one thing you can do to prepare for any spreading of the coronavirus here in Perth, is just to look after yourself really well!

Post viral recovery

Thinking then about acupuncture for coronavirus, and looking to the future, I’m mindful of the number of people over the years who have come to see me struggling with post-viral symptoms, sometimes even years after their original infection.

Traditional Chinese medical syndromes include patterns involving respiratory illnesses getting ‘stuck’ in the lungs after an acute illness – they have delightful names like ‘Phlegm Retained in the Lung’.

Recently I read an article describing the experiences a Chinese lady went through during her coronavirus infection, which ended with her thankfully being given the all clear of the viral infection, but still working to build her energy back up, and still stuck with some breathlessness.

So I a quick Google for scientific research on acupuncture for post-viral symptoms. I found some research studies on topics like acupuncture for post viral cough, acupuncture for post-viral fatigue, and acupuncture for post-viral olfactory dysfunction (problems with your sense of smell).

But, I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to find the level of robust clinical evidence that is required for me to share it with you here. Acupuncture to support post-viral recovery is an area where scientific research is very much ongoing, and no benefit can be considered proven.

Get in touch

Wishing you lots of good health in challenging times!

And don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’ve got any questions, or if you’d like to book some acupuncture to support your wellbeing, at any time.