In China, acupuncture is recognized as the most effective of all therapies for the treatment of herpes zoster (shingles). Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) usually attributes shingles to a combination of excess and deficiency in the body. Therefore, shingles usually affects older patients whose constitutional energy is deficient or younger patients who are suffering from exhaustion. The more pronounced the weakness of the patient, the more likelihood of complications and the more prolonged the course of the disease is likely to be.
Shingles is explained in TCM by the presence of pathogenic damp, heat and wind in the body. TCM acupuncture treatment of shingles is based on pattern differentiation according to the pathogenic factor and the energy channels involved. If damp is predominant, the lesions are more likely to be in the lower part of the body with more fluid discharge from the blisters. If heat predominates, blisters show more heat and redness and the pain is more severe. If wind predominates, the lesions are more likely to be in the upper part of the body with greater itching sensation.
Location of the lesions will indicate the channels that are affected. Lesions on the flanks and intercostal areas involve the Liver and Gallbladder channels. Lesions on the head and face involve the Yangming and Shaoyang channels. Traditional acupuncture points will be selected to address both the pathogenic factor and the channels involved. For example, SP10 and LI11 are powerful points to cool the blood and treat skin problems. SP9 and SP6 are famous for treating dampness in the body.
Locally, huatuojiaji points can be needled. These are points located approximately .5 inch lateral to the midline of the spine. These points can be selected based on the dermatome location of the blisters or according to the level of the Back Shu point of the channel involved.
I prefer to use Dr. Tan’s Balance Method, which would identify the “sick” channel – the location of the pain – and select points from the channel that would balance the sick channel. For lesions that wrap around the rib cage, many channels would be affected – UB, LV, GB, and SP possibly. Often very tender points will be found on the opposite arm LU channel between LU5 and LU6. LU balances UB because hand taiyin balances leg taiyang. LU balances LV because they are next to each other on the Chinese cyclical clock. LU balances SP because both belong to the taiyin channel.
Auricular acupuncture or acupressure via the application of vaccaria seeds can be used as a treatment or to supplement the body acupuncture. Points typically used are Shenmen, Lung, thoracic spine, subcortex, endocrine and skin disorder points.
Once the blisters have healed, if pain persists, a technique called plum blossom needling can be used over the painful area. A plum blossom needle has several short, thin needles on the head of a very small lightweight disposable “hammer”. The painful area is tapped with the needled head until there is slight bleeding. Then the area is cupped to withdraw blood.
So, as you can see, there are many approaches to treating shingles with acupuncture.