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.


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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