What Is Postherpetic Neuralgia?

The pain of shingles is bad enough.

With shin­gles, you get a rash on one side of your trunk or face.  It can be extreme­ly painful.

The seeds for shin­gles are sown when you first get chick­en pox (or are immu­nized for it. )  Once the chick­en pox out­break clears up, the vari­cel­la virus that caus­es it lodges in a dor­mant state in your body.  Then, years lat­er, per­haps when you are under added stress or your immune sys­tem has been com­pro­mised, the virus attacks your spinal nerves, caus­ing a rash and the char­ac­ter­is­tic nerve pain.

Though the pain can be intense, for­tu­nate­ly it typ­i­cal­ly clears up in two to four weeks.

But in 10 – 30% of cas­es, the shin­gles pain doesn’t go away in its usu­al few weeks.  Instead, it lingers for weeks or months.  Then it’s called pos­ther­pet­ic neu­ral­gia.

Here’s a Mayo Clin­ic arti­cle about it.

Can You Prevent Shingles?  Can You Stop It From Turning Into Post-Herpetic Neuralgia?

If you’ve ever had chick­en pox (or been vac­ci­nat­ed for it) you’re at risk of get­ting shin­gles.  Once you’re over 60, your risk of get­ting shin­gles goes up every year.

Most adults har­bor the vari­cel­la virus.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, doc­tors don’t have a clear idea why one per­son gets shin­gles and anoth­er doesn’t.  Or why one case of shin­gles clears up nor­mal­ly and anoth­er morphs into chron­ic post-her­pet­ic neu­ral­gia.

Now there’s a vac­cine that reduces the risk of get­ting shin­gles by about 50%.  It’s rec­om­mend­ed for most peo­ple over age 60.  The vac­cine may also reduce the like­li­hood that an attack of shin­gles will lead to pos­ther­pet­ic neu­ral­gia.

There are oth­er ways to boost your immune sys­tem and keep it vig­i­lant against shin­gles.

One research project showed that prac­ti­tion­ers of t’ai ch’i had a bet­ter immune response to the chick­en pox virus.  Pre­sum­ably, a bet­ter immune response would mean that your body could block the latent virus from emerg­ing and caus­ing hav­oc.

Is There Effective Treatment for Postherpetic Neuralgia?

There’s no sin­gle treat­ment that’s guar­an­teed to con­trol the pain of pos­ther­pet­ic neu­ral­gia or make it go away quick­er.

But here are some options that are often rec­om­mend­ed:

  • Wear­ing a skin patch with either cap­sacin (the ingre­di­ent that makes hot pep­per hot) or sal­i­cy­late (aspirin) can help.
  • Pre­scrip­tions for Neu­ron­tin or Lyri­ca – drugs that try to alter nor­mal nerve trans­mis­sion and thus block the neu­ral­gia pain.
  • Opi­oid drugs can also min­i­mize pain.
  • Acupunc­ture has been pro­posed as a treat­ment for post-her­pet­ic neu­ral­gia.
  • Anoth­er method that’s avail­able to treat post-her­pet­ic neu­ral­gia is elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion or TENS (tran­scu­ta­neous elec­tric nerve stim­u­la­tion.)  It works by block­ing or over­rid­ing pain sig­nals, so that they don’t ever add up in your brain to cre­ate the pain expe­ri­ence.

Postherpetic Neuralgia and NeuroTactile™ Therapy

In my office, I offer post-her­pet­ic neu­ral­gia suf­fer­ers a course of treat­ment with Neu­ro­Tac­tile™ Ther­a­py.  Neu­ro­Tac­tile Ther­a­py works along the same lines as acupunc­ture or elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion to block pain sig­nals and change the way they’re processed in the brain.

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

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