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(tm) Therapy

In my office, I offer post-herpetic neuralgia sufferers a course of treatment with NeuroTactile(tm) 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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