Stop Shingles in its Tracks: How Japanese Acupuncture Can Soothe the Pain and Strengthen Your Immunity


What are Shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash, usually occurring in a single stripe on either the left or right side of the body. The rash is due to the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

After a person recovers from chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains dormant in the body’s nerve tissues. Years or decades later, the virus can reactivate as shingles. When shingles develops, the virus causes inflammation and nerve pain along the pathway of a specific nerve. Common locations are the chest, back, abdomen or face on just one side.

The shingles rash begins as a stripe of fluid-filled blisters that rupture and crust over. Shingles blisters are typically grouped together on a red base. The painful rash can persist for 2 to 4 weeks. Some people also experience flu-like symptoms just before the rash appears.

In addition to the rash, shingles can cause severe and long-lasting nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia), as well as itching, tingling or burning sensations. For some, the pain continues long after the rash heals and can disrupt sleep, mood and everyday activities.

Causes and Risk Factors

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body’s nerve tissues. It can reactivate years later, resulting in shingles.

The reason the dormant virus reactivates is not fully understood, but it is believed to occur when immunity to the virus declines due to aging or immune deficiency. As a result, shingles is more common in older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Your risk increases as you age, especially after 50 years old. About half of all shingles cases occur in adults 60 years and older.

Other factors that can increase your risk of developing shingles include:

  • Having had chickenpox before age 1
  • Experiencing stress or trauma
  • Having certain diseases that affect the immune system, like HIV, cancer, or lupus
  • Undergoing cancer treatments like radiation or chemotherapy
  • Taking immunosuppressant medications like steroids or TNF inhibitors

So in summary, shingles risk increases with age and immune deficiency due to the reactivation of the dormant chickenpox virus. Maintaining a strong immune system is important to reducing risk.

Conventional Shingles Treatments

The standard medical treatment for shingles focuses on relieving symptoms and limiting the severity and duration of the condition. The main approaches include:

Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medications like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can help shorten the duration of a shingles outbreak and reduce the risk of complications. These medications work by stopping the virus from multiplying and spreading. However, they need to be started as soon as possible once shingles symptoms appear to provide maximum benefit.

Pain Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin can help temporarily ease shingles pain. Prescription medications like gabapentin, tricyclic antidepressants, or opioids may be prescribed for more severe pain. However, these medications often come with side effects and don’t treat the root cause.

Anti-Itch Creams

Applying calamine lotion or over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams to shingles rashes can temporarily relieve itching. However, frequent reapplication is often needed.

While conventional treatment can provide symptomatic relief, it doesn’t strengthen the immune system or address underlying imbalances that caused the shingles outbreak initially. This is where Japanese acupuncture offers a valuable alternative approach.

Limitations of Conventional Treatments

Conventional medicine offers limited options for treating shingles. Medications like antiviral drugs, pain medications, and corticosteroids can help reduce the severity of symptoms, but do not cure the underlying viral infection. These medications also come with side effects like nausea, headaches, and dizziness.

The most frustrating limitation is that the severe nerve pain associated with shingles often persists long after the rash has cleared up, a condition known as postherpetic neuralgia. Conventional treatments provide little relief for this lingering neuropathic pain. Patients are often prescribed antidepressants, anticonvulsants, opioids, and numbing agents to try managing the pain, but these offer only partial relief.

In summary, while conventional treatments may provide some symptomatic relief, they fail to fully address the root causes of shingles and the lasting pain it creates. Patients are left to cope with medication side effects and ongoing nerve pain. This demonstrates the need for alternative treatment approaches like acupuncture that take a holistic view of healing the body.

Overview of Japanese Acupuncture

Japanese acupuncture is based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine and involves the insertion of extremely fine needles into specific points on the body. The points are located along meridians, which are believed to be channels through which energy, or “qi”, flows.

The aim of acupuncture is to stimulate and regulate the proper flow of qi in order to restore balance between yin and yang energies in the body. When qi flows freely through the meridians without blockages or deficiencies, the body is considered to be in a state of health and vitality. By needling acupuncture points, practitioners can influence the movement of qi and restore harmony when it has become unbalanced.

Japanese acupuncture has its roots in Chinese acupuncture but evolved after being introduced to Japan centuries ago. While the core principles remain the same, the Japanese approach emphasizes gentle, subtle needling techniques and in-depth diagnostic methods. There are also some differences in acupuncture point locations compared to Chinese acupuncture. Overall, Japanese acupuncture aims to gently nudge the body back into balance rather than over-stimulating it.

How Acupuncture Treats Shingles

Acupuncture is able to treat shingles in several ways:

  • Boosts immune function against virus: Acupuncture points help regulate the immune system. Needling specific points can strengthen the body’s defenses against the varicella-zoster virus to stop it from reactivating and causing shingles.
  • Reduces inflammation and nerve pain: Acupuncture improves circulation which reduces swelling and inflammation at the affected nerve area. It also stimulates the release of natural painkillers in the body to relieve the burning, throbbing pain caused by shingles.
  • Restores balance to affected area: Shingles causes disruptions along the meridians or energy pathways in the body. Acupuncture helps to remove any blocks along the meridians and restore the flow of qi (energy) to bring the affected area back into balance. The improved energy flow also aids in healing the rash and post-herpetic neuralgia.


Kiiko Matsumoto’s Acupuncture Style

Developed by renowned Japanese acupuncturist Kiiko Matsumoto, this style represents the pinnacle of traditional Japanese acupuncture. It incorporates sensitive palpation techniques to identify areas of imbalance in the body. Treatment involves the use of extremely thin needles inserted with a gentle technique to elicit a response.

The hallmarks of Matsumoto’s style include:

  • Highly-attuned palpation skills to detect imbalances and blockages in the body’s energy flow. Practitioners can find even subtle areas of tenderness or tension.
  • Minimal and gentle needling. Only a few ultra-thin needles are used per treatment. They are placed precisely in specific points and angles to elicit the desired response. Patients often report feeling little to no pain during treatment.
  • A focus on restoring balance and flow of qi energy. Needles help remove blockages and redirect energy to where it is needed.
  • Customized treatments based on the patient’s unique condition. No two treatments are the same, as they are tailored to what the practitioner feels during palpation.
  • A holistic approach that treats the root cause. Matsumoto’s style aims to resolve the underlying issues behind a condition vs just treating superficial symptoms.
  • Effective for both acute and chronic conditions. It can provide rapid relief for pain while also strengthening overall health.

Matsumoto’s acupuncture reflects decades of experience and the essence of traditional Japanese acupuncture. In the hands of a skilled practitioner like Dr. Yelena Grabko, it can gently yet powerfully restore health and balance to the body.

Acupuncture Treatment Protocol

Acupuncture treatment for shingles focuses on balancing the immune system and reducing inflammation in the affected area. The acupuncturist will select points based on the patient’s individual symptoms and the location of the shingles rash.

Common points used are around the dermatomes (areas of skin) affected by the shingles. For example, if shingles occurs on the torso, points may be selected along the stomach, gallbladder, liver, or spleen meridians. Distal points far from the rash may also be used to create a balancing effect.

In addition to needles, moxa will often be applied during treatment. Moxa is dried mugwort herb that is burned over acupuncture points, with the intention of deeply warming and stimulating the area. The heat from moxa has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and can help stop the growth and spread of the shingles virus.

By selecting the optimal combination of acupuncture points and moxa for each patient, the acupuncturist aims to strengthen the immune response, reduce inflammation, and accelerate healing of the shingles rash. The individualized nature of the treatment allows for a holistic approach to resolving both the symptoms and root causes.

The Benefits of Acupuncture for Shingles

Acupuncture offers an effective, natural treatment approach for shingles without the concerning side effects of medications. Research has shown acupuncture can provide the following benefits for shingles patients:

  • Reduces Rash Outbreak and Nerve Pain: Acupuncture points on the back, abdomen, arms and legs can reduce inflammation and pain associated with shingles rashes. Studies show acupuncture significantly reduces acute herpetic neuralgia pain from shingles outbreaks. The stimulation of acupuncture needles helps block pain signals to the brain and releases natural pain-relieving endorphins.
  • Boosts Immune Response Against Virus: Acupuncture strengthens the immune system, allowing the body to better fight off the varicella-zoster virus. Studies demonstrate acupuncture activates neutrophils, lymphocytes and other protective white blood cells that target viral infections. This helps reduce the severity and duration of shingles symptoms.
  • Safe with Minimal Side Effects: Unlike medications that often have concerning side effects, acupuncture is extremely safe when performed by a licensed acupuncturist. The most common side effect is minimal bruising or soreness where the needles are inserted. Acupuncture regulates immunity without suppressing it, offering an effective treatment with virtually no side effects or risks.

In summary, acupuncture offers a drug-free way to manage shingles pain, shorten the duration of outbreaks and strengthen antiviral defenses. The combination of immune-bolstering and pain-relieving effects provide safe, effective relief for shingles patients.


Acupuncture offers a holistic alternative for treating shingles and managing its painful symptoms. By stimulating points along the meridians, acupuncture can help restore the flow of qi and strengthen the body’s vital energy. The needles also trigger the release of endorphins, providing natural pain relief.

In particular, Kiiko Matsumoto’s style applies a systematic diagnostic framework to identify and treat underlying imbalances. Her specialized techniques, including palpation and sensitive needling, can precisely target the root factors influencing shingles outbreaks.

Overall, acupuncture works to modulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, alleviate pain and itching, speed healing of the rash, and prevent postherpetic neuralgia. Patients often find it gentler and more effective than medications.

If you’re interested in exploring acupuncture treatment for shingles, consult with a licensed acupuncturist trained in Japanese techniques. They can evaluate your specific health profile and customize a treatment plan to address your needs. Acupuncture is very safe when performed by a certified practitioner. Relief from shingles symptoms is often felt after just a few sessions. Consider adding acupuncture to your wellness routine for a natural way to strengthen your body’s defenses.

Dr.Ac Yelena Grabko treating Shingles in Edmonton

Being a master of Kiiko Matsumoto’s style of acupuncture, she is representing the culmination of centuries of Japanese acupuncture wisdom and innovation while advancing its methodology for the modern era in her daily clinical practice. Through masterful palpation and sensitive needling, Yelena Grabko is able to pinpoint and resolve underlying issues with minimal intervention. She encourages Patients to explore this dynamic modality, either as a complement to Western medicine or as a holistic system for self-care. Founded by Yelena Grabko, Live by Design Health Centre is dedicated to patient-centered care and gentle healing of body and soul.

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