Acupuncture may help you manage pain from shingles or shingles complications. Other treatments used with acupuncture may also help relieve pain.

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that’s commonly used to treat pain. How it works isn’t fully understood, but it may affect the nervous system.

People use it to relieve pain from many health conditions. Some research suggests it may help relieve pain from shingles. Keep reading to learn more about the research and potential benefits.

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific parts of the body known as acupuncture points. The professional who performs this technique is called an acupuncturist. Acupuncturists use single-use needles and follow the Clean Needle Technique.

When your acupuncturist inserts the needles, you may feel a tingling sensation. If you experience pain or discomfort, let them know.

After inserting the needles, the acupuncturist may activate them through electrical stimulation or by gently moving them with their hands, or they may not stimulate them at all. They’ll leave the needles in your skin for up to 30 minutes. This process may help your body to release its own naturally occurring painkillers.

How often you get acupuncture can depend on the severity of your pain and how your body responds. You may decide to have treatment daily or weekly.

Research suggests that acupuncture can ease pain in conditions such as migraine and back pain. Some studies have been conducted to see whether acupuncture can also treat shingles pain.

Researchers found that adding acupuncture to traditional antiviral therapy shortened the time in three key phases of shingles:

  • the pain before the blisters appeared
  • the time it took for the blisters to scab over
  • the time it took for blisters to stop forming

Other research suggests that acupuncture may reduce pain as part of a placebo effect. More research is still needed to support the benefits of acupuncture for shingles and other health conditions.

Learn more about natural remedies for shingles.

Some people use acupuncture to manage a complication of shingles called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which triggers a painful nerve condition in the same location as the blisters. This nerve pain can last for weeks, months, or even years.

The CDC reports that 10 to 18% of people who get shingles are likely to get PHN.

A 2022 review of research found acupuncture and acupuncture-related treatments like pricking and cupping were more effective for pain relief than antiepileptic medications, which doctors can prescribe for nerve pain.

The authors noted that electroacupuncture (acupuncture with electrical stimulation), along with antiepileptics, was most effective for treating PHN pain. People undergoing this treatment combination also reported better sleep and symptoms of depression than people who received other treatments.

In 2014, researchers noted that nearly 140 studies had used acupuncture to help manage PHN within the past 5 years. Other studies have shown that acupuncture may be effective at managing pain related to PHN as well as improving quality of life.

The results from a new study on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for PHN are forthcoming.

Acupuncture is generally considered safe and has few, if any, side effects.

If you have shingles, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible. This increases the effectiveness of any treatment the doctor can prescribe. They may recommend an antiviral medication to help prevent the virus from replicating, which may help you recover faster.

Learn about antiviral medications for shingles.

Besides acupuncture, you can use other methods to manage your pain. These include:

  • antiviral drugs such as Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex
  • over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers
  • calamine lotion, colloidal oatmeal, andwet compresses

Doctors may also recommend vaccination to prevent reinfection. The Shingrix vaccine is available for adults ages 50 and older and for adults over 19 with weakened immune systems.

This vaccine reduces the risk of getting shingles one or more times. If a person still gets shingles after vaccination, the symptoms may be less intense.

Learn more about the shingles vaccine.

If you’re considering acupuncture for shingles pain or PHN, consider asking a doctor first. They may be able to help you find a licensed acupuncturist in your area.

Though acupuncture may help with pain, it’s not a treatment for shingles. Be sure to talk with a doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing shingles symptoms. This will help ensure you get treated quickly and lower the risk of complications.