Herpes Zoster (shingles)

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have proven effective in managing the pain, discomfort, and inflammation caused by shingles, also known as herpes zoster. This painful viral infection, stemming from the varicella-zoster virus—the same virus that causes chickenpox—causes a rash that wraps around one side of the torso or face. 

Throughout my years of clinical experience, I have helped many patients with herpes zoster and post herpetic neuralgia with acupuncture and chinese medicine to reduce pain, discomfort, and inflammation with the goal of bringing about long term improvements.  

In this article, I will tell you how Chinese medicine works to treat herpes zoster and post-herpetic neuralgia as well as share clinical research about these challenging conditions. 

This article is for educational purposes only and does not serve as medical advice. Please consult a Chinese Medicine Practitioner before taking Chinese herbal medicine. 

Symptoms of Shingles

The main symptom of shingles is a painful, blistering rash that usually appears on one side of the body, often in a band-like pattern. This is accompanied by pain, itching, and sometimes flu-like symptoms. The pain results from inflammation of the nerves under the skin where the rash occurs. 

herpes zoster diagram

Postherpetic Neuralgia

Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN) is a chronic pain condition that can remain after the skin rash of shingles has healed. The pain of PHN can be intense, deeply aching, burning, or stabbing, and it can persist for months or even years after the initial outbreak. 

PHN occurs when the shingles infection damages the sensory nerves, leading to changes in nerve function at the sites of the rash and along the nerve pathway. 

acupuncture chart

Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia from a TCM Perspective

In Chinese Medicine illness is a manifestation of an underlying imbalance within the body.  Shingles is often caused by an attack of heat and dampness.  Heat is associated with inflammation, redness, and pain. And dampness is a way of describing the blisters that form along the nerve pathway resulting in the painful and blistering rash characteristic of shingles. Heat and dampness are common causes associated with viral and bacterial infections. 

The condition often emerges along the liver and gall bladder acupuncture meridians which run along the sides of the body over the chest, ribs, and back.

Other signs of damp heat may also be present such as a fever, a feeling of heaviness, irritability, or digestive issues. We may see a red tongue with a thick yellow coat.  

Post herpetic neuralgia occurs after the inflammation has damaged the nerves of the body leading to blood stagnation and qi deficiency.  

acupuncture on back


Acupuncture treatment for shingles and post herpetic neuralgia focus on clearing damp heat, restoring the flow of Qi and blood, boosting immune function, and balancing emotional well-being.

The selection of acupuncture points for shingles is tailored to the individual’s symptoms and the specific TCM diagnosis. Some commonly used points for treating damp heat in the liver and gall bladder channel include:

  • Liver 3 (Taichong)
  • Gall Bladder 34 (Yanglingquan)
  • Large Intestine 11 (Quchi)
  • Spleen 9 (Yinlingquan) 
  • Triple Burner 6 (Zhigou)

We make also include acupuncture needles close to where the pain is located, what is called Ashi or ouch points, 

Mechanisms of Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Modulation of Pain Signals: Acupuncture is thought to modulate pain by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to the release of endorphins and other neurochemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Endorphins, known as the body’s natural painkillers, can significantly alleviate pain. By influencing the nervous system, acupuncture can change the pain processing pathways in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the sensitivity to pain linked with shingles and PHN.

Reduction of Inflammation: Acupuncture may help in reducing inflammation associated with shingles by promoting the release of our own immunomodulatory factors. This process helps in decreasing the inflammatory response and thereby alleviating the acute and chronic pain of shingles and PHN.

Improvement of Circulation: Acupuncture is known to help improve circulation in order to remove inflammatory chemicals and other pain-inducing substances from the affected areas. Improved blood flow may also facilitate the healing process of the nerve tissues damaged by the herpes zoster virus.

Promote Relaxation: Acupuncture is often described as a calming experience and is known to reduce anxiety and stress, which can exacerbate pain perception. The reduction in psychological stress can indirectly contribute to pain relief, making it easier for patients to manage their symptoms.

chinese herbal formula

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Shingles

Herbal medicine also would target the underlying imbalance. Often herbs which remove damp heat in the liver and gallbladder are used. These types of herbs are known for antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (Gentiana Drain Liver Decoction) is one of the most commonly used formula for shingles.  This formula is specifically designed to clear damp heat from the liver and gall bladder. It contains herbs such as Gentiana (Long Dan Cao), Radix Rehmannia (Sheng Di Huang), Alisma (Ze Xie), and others which work together to cool the liver, eliminate dampness, and alleviate pain and inflammation. 

Other formulas or individual herbs modifications are often added.  For example,  Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin (Universal Benefit Decoction to Eliminate Toxin) addresses heat toxicity and inflammation and is helpful particularly if the lesions manifests on the head and upper body. 

For treating post herpetic neuralgia, key objectives include augmenting Qi, moving Blood, and dispelling the residual pathogenic factors. We may include herbs which reduce blood stagnation such as Dang Gui (Angelica Sinensis), Bai Shao (White Peony Root), Chuan Xiong (Ligusticum Wallichii). Additionally, Huang Qi (Astragalus Root) which boosts Qi, strengthens the body’s defenses, and reduces inflammation is often added. This herb may also help to nourish the healing of the nerves. 

Chinese Medicine Nutritional Therapy

In Chinese medicine, dietary therapy is used to nourish the body and aid in the healing process. The goal is to avoid flaring up the dampness heat while also cooling the body. 

Avoid Heat-Producing Foods: Spicy, fried, and greasy foods can exacerbate damp heat. Patients are advised to avoid these types of foods to help clear the condition. We call these activating foods

Increase Intake of Cooling Foods: Foods with a cooling nature, such as leafy greens, cucumbers, and watermelon, can help balance internal heat.

Limit Damp-Forming Foods: Dairy products, sweet foods, and overly rich meals can increase dampness in the body and should be consumed in moderation.

Feel Better, Get Acupuncture!

Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture target the underlying imbalances to reduce inflammation and pain associated with shingles. This approach not only aims to alleviate the symptoms but also seeks to stimulate the body to heal naturally and bring long-term balance. 

Please call us at 212.319.5757 or you can make your appointment online

Joseph Alban

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.

Joseph Alban is a Doctor of Acupuncture, New York Licensed Acupuncturist, and NCCAOM Board Certified Herbalist providing the highest quality Acupuncture and Chinese medicine care tailored to your needs.

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