The main benefits of using acupuncture for shingles are the holistic remedy’s ability to restore life energy, or qi, and its power to mitigate constant pain from a shingles outbreak without the use of prescription narcotics, which can be addictive. Since acupuncture is not addictive and has few known side effects of frequent, long-term use, an additional benefit is that acupuncture can be used as duration therapy to curb the nerve pain that remains long after the lesions have disappeared. There is no scientifically-confirmed cure for shingles, which is caused by the herpes zoster virus and is characterized by aches, lethargy and rash. Doctors can only prescribe treatments to manage the side effects of the disease.
While traditional doctors believe old age and a feeble immune system can make one susceptible to shingles, alternative therapists who practice acupuncture for shingles believe low levels of qi, alternately called chi, renders one susceptible. Deficient qi levels typically occur in the region of the liver. When an imbalance of qi occurs, it can often lead to excess qi in the area of the gall bladder. By inserting needles into pressure points affecting these areas, an acupuncturist is able to restore proper qi distribution and thereby help the body fight off shingles, holistic healers believe.
Needles used in acupuncture can also reportedly relieve pain caused by post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This is the residual nerve pain that exists after a bout of shingles. While the rash of lesions and blisters is temporary, pain associated with shingles can last long after visible signs of the illness have dissipated — sometimes even for years.
In addition to using needles to relieve nerve pain, an acupuncturist might also use heat therapy or electronic currents to offer benefits to those with shingles. Heat therapy involves burning dried leaves, such as those from the mugwort plant, over key points of the body associated with certain nerves. Electric currents are used during electroacupuncture, which has been the most successful form of acupuncture for shingles since it is believed to reduce PHN pain more than just needles alone.
Despite the plethora of patient anecdotes affirming the benefits of acupuncture for shingles, mainstream research does not support its effectiveness. Several research reports claim people afflicted with shingles in a clinical study did not show any improvement from the use of acupuncture, whether exposed to acupuncture needles, currents or heat therapy. There are negative side effects to using acupuncture for shingles. The duration of relief is short lasting, at most, eight hours. After that, the patient must use other treatments, suffer or schedule additional acupuncture.