During my training in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we were taught that acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas were often used in China to treat herpes zoster – more commonly known as shingles. But as luck would have it, I never encountered a case in the student clinic. Two weeks ago my 78 year-old diabetic mother complained of back pain that was excruciating during the night and subsided during the day. She did not remember straining her back. Then on the third day, she noticed a cluster of blisters on her right side. She called her doctor and was told that she had shingles and that there was very little that they could do for her other than prescribe a pain medication (which has been quite ineffective to treat her pain).
I immediately dragged out all of my notes from school and rummaged through all of my reference materials. I learned that my mother is in the age group with the highest incidence of shingles and with the greatest risk of developing postherpatic neuralgia – pain that may last years after the blisters have healed! Luckily, I found many protocols in TCM that can be very effective in reducing the severity and duration of the pain.
I found an article in the 1996 September issue of the Journal of Chinese Medicine entitled “The Clinical Effectiveness of Bloodletting Therapy in the Treatment of Herpes Zoster”. The article discussed a study involving 38 patients suffering an acute case of shingles. Each patient had a few drops of blood taken out of the tip of the ear on the affected side of the body. If the herpes was above the waist, a few drops of blood were taken out of the acupuncture point LU-11 near the thumb fingernail. If the herpes was below the waist, a few drops were taken out of SP-1 near the toenail of the big toe. Additionally, the top of the leading herpes blister and the red streaks around it were pricked and cups were placed over the area to encourage bleeding from the local area. All 38 cases in this study were cured (the lesions faded and there was no pain) after one to three daily treatments.
In the May 1994 issue of the Journal of Chinese Medicine, another article entitled “Treatment by Acupuncture – Herpes Zoster”, the author talks about some empirical points that can be alternatively bled to treat shingles. One of the points is called Longyan (Dragon’s Eyes) and is located on the ulnar side of the little finger. Another set of points is called Sheyan (Snake’s Eyes) and they are located on the thumb. In ancient China this disease was likened to a creeping snake because the eruption of blisters creeped along the body in a line. The first patches of lesions to appear were called the head of the snake and the last were called the tail of the snake. So it is logical that the points to treat this disease would be named after a snake!
Bleeding one or two of these points can be combined with each acupuncture treatment in the acute phase of the disease. Of course, bleeding therapy would be contraindicated for any patient taking a blood thinning medication such as Coumadin. And bleeding should be done sparingly, if at all, on people with extremely weak constitutions.