How to Distinguish Shingles from Lower Back Pain

△ It is important for an acupuncturist not to rule out possibility of back pain from Shingles as he/she diagnose a back pain patient. photoⓒAdobeStock_ Aleksej

To prevent pain from Shingles, Enhancing Immune System is Important.

By Winston Lee L. Ac, Ph.D, KMD

The most common chief complaint in acupuncture clinic is a pain, without doubt. In my case, majority of complaints are the notorious lower back pain. The pain can be seen at the upper back area between blades and reach down to lower back area. But we should differentiate specially Shingles from a regular back pain.

Symptom of Shingles is very similar to that of LBP. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, the symptom is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clears up within 2 to 4 weeks.

Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. Shingles on the face can affect the eye and cause vision loss. In rare cases (usually in people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread on the body and look similar to a chickenpox rash.

From my past experiences, Shingles patients stated that pain started on back or flank area without any reason – excessive exercise, sprained back or any accidents. This illness takes place when the patient felt fatigue or had lack of sleeping. Most of Shingles patients were over 50-year-old or have other chronic disease with weaker or lower than normal immune system.

Shingles causes a painful red rash that may appear as a stripe of blisters on the trunk of the body. But we can see the red one several days later after the patient is infected by chickenpox virus. In other words, we cannot see any clue during early stage of onset of the symptom.

Shingles is not from accident or muscle injury. Chickenpox virus (varicella zoster virus) usually stays in lymphatic ganglion close to spine and it is activated when the body is extremely tired, and the immune system is very weak. Activated virus makes inflammation at sensory nerve and it results in ‘acute pain’ on the skin. If a patient is diagnosed as Shingles, I assume that the patient had gone through major surgery, termination at work, heartbreaking divorce or loss of family recently. It’s because the extreme mental stress causes immunodeficiency. As a matter of fact, AIDS patients whose immune level are way lower than other people have this Shingles and it’s pretty common.

Fortunately, it doesn’t’t kill a human. It is not such a life-threatening disease such as cancer, and stroke. Also, it doesn’t’t last in our body long time like chronic pain by disc herniation or spinal stenosis. Shingles causes a big and short pain, but the patient can be completely recovered in one month. The rash shows up in the early 2-3 days and patient should get anti-virus medicine at this moment. Then it is able to be healed in a short time. But when it shows blisters already, anti-virus medicine does not work, and the patient needs to take pain killer and should take a full rest at home.

I take Shingles as a red flag of protecting shield in the body. Generally speaking, effective preventative remedy is to strengthen our immune system. Immunodeficiency could result in Shingles and other malignant tumor (cancer). According to recent research, even auto-immune disease such as Lupus, Crohn’s disease are known to be triggered by low immunity. It is important to take enough rest as far as possible in order to prevent these diseases and the ‘rest’ includes enough sleep and high quality plus proper quantity of nutrition. It is recommended that patients over 50’s take Shingles shot, and it is known to work for the elderly.

As a doctor of eastern medicine, we can use acupuncture to control the pain without using any chemical painkiller pill as a first responder. When the pain goes down soon, prescribing customized herbal medicine is necessary to boost up the immune system for the prevention and reactivation of the chickenpox virus. 





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