The pain associated with herpes zoster, or shingles, can be debilitating, especially in the elderly. The pain is a combination of burning, itching and stabbing and is especially severe at night. Most adults who develop herpes zoster have had chicken pox as a child. Herpes zoster is a reactivation of the same varicella-zoster virus that can lie dormant in the body after a bout of chicken pox. The virus often invades the ganglia of the spinal nerves and the blisters characteristically break out unilaterally along the dermatome associated with the affected spinal nerve(s). An outbreak of shingles often follows a time of emotional stress and can attack the body when the immune system is compromised.
Western medicine does not have an effective means of treating shingles other than the dosing of pain medications, which may become addictive or have serious side effects. But many techniques are employed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to effectively reduce the severity and duration of this disease.
In the September 1994 issue of the Journal of Chinese Medicine, there is an article that discusses the technique called “surround the dragon”. It involves placing fine acupuncture needles around the lesions without regard to traditional acupuncture points. Needles are inserted at 2cm intervals subcutaneously at a 25 degree angle to the skin around the rash. The needles are left in place for 30 minutes. No deqi, or energy sensation is obtained. It is relatively painless for the patient. The number of needles depends entirely on the extensiveness of the rash.
This article discusses a study that was conducted using this technique. Fifty patients between the age of 20 and 91 (with an average age of 64.9) participated in the study. A requirement of the study was that the patient had to be in the acute stage of the disease (less than 16 days from the outbreak of the lesions). The patients were treated daily. The study concluded that the “surround the dragon” method was highly effective to treat the acute stage of shingles, as 45 of the 50 patients (90%), declared themselves free of pain in an average of 4.6 days! This is a significantly shorter duration than the 14 to 21 days that it typically takes for the lesions to dry, scab and fall off. Without acupuncture treatment, pain is almost always present during this 2-3 week period, and often for some time after the lesions have healed.
Additionally, participants were contacted five to twelve months after their acupuncture treatments and 88% had had no pain since. Therefore, the study concluded that this treatment method also reduced the incidence of post-herpetic neuralgia dramatically.