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  • Writer's pictureMin Jeon

Postherpetic Neuralgia: From Nerve Pain to Nerve'ana

Updated: Apr 10

Welcome to our exploration into the often misunderstood realm of Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN), where we unveil the mysteries surrounding this chronic pain condition and pave the way for newfound clarity and potential relief. If you've found yourself here, it's likely that you're seeking answers, guidance, and perhaps a ray of light amidst the challenges of living with PHN.

PHN, stemming from the aftermath of shingles, isn't just about physical discomfort – it can be a journey filled with uncertainties and frustrations. But fear not, for within this blog, we aim to illuminate the path ahead, offering insights and potential treatment and strategies to help you navigate the complexities of PHN with confidence and understanding.

Throughout this blog, we'll delve into the fundamental aspects of PHN – from its underlying causes to the myriad of symptoms it presents. But beyond mere explanations, our mission is to provide you with actionable steps and valuable strategies to ease the burden of PHN and reclaim your overall well-being.

So, join us on this enlightening journey as we uncover the hidden truths of Postherpetic Neuralgia and empower you to take charge of your health and happiness. Together, let's embark on a path towards understanding, relief, and ultimately, a brighter tomorrow.

Understand Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a painful condition that affects nerves and skin. It occurs as a complication of herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles. Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain. Later in life, the virus can reactivate, typically manifesting as shingles.

Postherpetic neuralgia arises when the nerve fibers damaged by the shingles outbreak send exaggerated and prolonged pain signals to the brain. It is characterized by persistent and often severe pain in the area where the shingles rash occurred. The pain can range from burning or shooting sensations to stabbing or electric shock-like pain. In some cases, even light touch or clothing brushing against the skin can trigger intense pain. The intensity and duration of postherpetic neuralgia can vary widely among individuals.

Potential Causes that May Contribute to the Development of Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a complication of shingles, which is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Postherpetic neuralgia occurs when the nerve fibers are damaged during the shingles outbreak and continue to send pain signals to the brain even after the rash and other symptoms of shingles have resolved. Several factors may contribute to the development of postherpetic neuralgia, including:


Postherpetic neuralgia is more common in older adults, especially those over the age of 60. As people age, their immune system may weaken, making it harder for the body to fight off the varicella-zoster virus.

Severity of Shingles Outbreak: 

The severity of the shingles outbreak can be directly correlated with the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia. Individuals who experience more severe symptoms during their shingles outbreak may be more likely to develop postherpetic neuralgia.

Location of Shingles Rash: 

Shingles rashes that occur on the face, particularly near the eyes or ears, may be more likely to lead to postherpetic neuralgia. This is because the nerves in these areas are more sensitive and may be more prone to damage.

Immune System Suppression: 

People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, or who are undergoing immunosuppressive therapy, can be at a higher risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia.


Inflammation caused by the shingles infection can also contribute to nerve damage and subsequent development of PHN.

Chronic Medical Conditions: 

Individuals with certain chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, may be at an increased risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia.

Genetic Predisposition: 

Some research suggests that certain genetic factors may predispose individuals to developing postherpetic neuralgia.

Psychological Factors: 

Psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and depression may play a role in the development and severity of postherpetic neuralgia.


Some studies have suggested that women may be at a slightly higher risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia compared to men.

Pain during Shingles Outbreak: 

Individuals who experience severe pain during their shingles outbreak may be more likely to develop postherpetic neuralgia.

Delayed Antiviral Treatment: 

Delayed initiation of antiviral therapy may increase the likelihood of developing this complication.

Trauma or Injury to Nerve: 

Any trauma or injury to the affected nerve during the shingles outbreak or during the healing process may increase the likelihood of developing postherpetic neuralgia. This damage can disrupt the normal functioning of the nerve and lead to chronic pain.

Viral Load: 

The severity and duration of the shingles outbreak may be influenced by the viral load, or the amount of virus present in the body. Higher viral loads have been associated with more severe cases of shingles, which in turn can increase the risk of postherpetic neuralgia.

Previous History of Neuralgia: 

Individuals who have a history of other types of neuralgia or chronic pain conditions may be more prone to developing postherpetic neuralgia. This suggests that there may be underlying factors related to nerve sensitivity or function that predispose certain individuals to chronic pain following a shingles infection.

Altered Immune Response: 

Variations in immune response, such as autoimmune disorders or certain medications that affect immune function, may influence the development of postherpetic neuralgia. An impaired immune response may result in prolonged inflammation and damage to nerve tissue, contributing to pain after shingles resolves.

It's important to note that not everyone who experiences shingles will develop postherpetic neuralgia, and the severity and duration of postherpetic neuralgia can vary widely among individuals.

These factors collectively may contribute to the complex interplay between the immune system, nervous system, and viral infection that underlies the development of postherpetic neuralgia. Understanding these factors may help healthcare providers identify individuals at higher risk and implement appropriate preventive measures.

Potential Symptoms of Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a condition characterized by persistent pain following a shingles (herpes zoster) outbreak. Symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia may include:

Constant or Intermittent Pain in the Affected Area:

The pain experienced with PHN can vary in intensity but is typically persistent. It may be localized to the area where the shingles rash occurred.

Burning Sensation:

Many individuals with PHN describe the pain as burning, which can vary in severity.

Shooting or Stabbing Pain:

PHN pain may also manifest as sharp, shooting, or stabbing sensations that radiate along the affected nerves.

Hypersensitivity to Touch or Pressure:

Even light touch or gentle pressure on the affected area may trigger increased pain in individuals with PHN.

Itching or Tingling:

Some people may experience sensations of itching or tingling in the area affected by PHN, which may exacerbate discomfort.

Numbness or Loss of Sensation:

In addition to pain, PHN may lead to numbness or decreased sensation in the affected area, making it challenging to feel touch or temperature changes.

Muscle Weakness:

Chronic pain and nerve damage associated with PHN may lead to muscle weakness, particularly if the affected nerves supply motor function to nearby muscles.

Difficulty Sleeping Due to Pain:

Pain from PHN may interfere with sleep, causing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night.

Fatigue or Exhaustion:

Chronic pain can be draining both physically and emotionally and may lead to feelings of fatigue or exhaustion.

Difficulty Concentrating or Memory Problems:

Persistent pain may impair cognitive function, making it challenging to concentrate, remember things, or stay focused on tasks.

Mood Changes, Including Depression or Anxiety:

Living with chronic pain can take a toll on mental health and may contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, or mood swings.

Decreased Appetite or Weight Loss:

Chronic pain and associated symptoms may lead to a reduced appetite, resulting in unintentional weight loss for some individuals.


PHN-related pain can sometimes manifest as headaches, either localized to the affected area or as tension headaches due to the overall impact of chronic pain.

Flu-like Symptoms:

Some individuals with PHN may experience symptoms similar to those of the flu, such as fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue.

Swelling or Redness in the Affected Area:

Inflammation may persist in the affected nerves, leading to localized swelling or redness in the area affected by PHN.

Blistering or Rash:

In some cases, individuals with PHN may experience recurrent blistering or rash in the affected area, particularly during periods of increased pain or stress.

Sensitivity to Temperature Changes:

Changes in temperature, such as exposure to cold or heat, may exacerbate pain and discomfort in individuals with PHN.

Difficulty with Daily Activities or Movements:

Chronic pain and associated symptoms can make routine activities of daily living challenging and may require modifications to accommodate the individual's limitations.

Not everyone will experience all symptoms associated with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Symptoms can vary widely among individuals, and some may only experience a subset of the common manifestations such as pain, burning sensations, or numbness. Due to the complexity of PHN, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis.

Potential Benefits of Acupuncture for Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

Pain Relief:

Acupuncture may stimulate the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals. By increasing endorphin levels, acupuncture may potentially help alleviate pain associated with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Reducing Inflammation:

Acupuncture may trigger the release of anti-inflammatory substances in the body, such as adenosine and cortisol. These substances may help reduce inflammation in the affected nerves, potentially easing pain and discomfort in individuals with PHN.

Improving Blood Circulation:

Acupuncture may potentially stimulate blood flow to the affected area. Improved circulation may promote healing and reduce pain by delivering oxygen and nutrients to damaged nerves associated with PHN.

Relaxation and Stress Reduction:

Acupuncture may induce a state of relaxation, which may help reduce stress levels. Lowered stress may potentially alleviate PHN symptoms by decreasing muscle tension and promoting overall well-being.

Nerve Regeneration:

Some research suggests that acupuncture may promote nerve regeneration by stimulating the production of nerve growth factors. This potential effect may potentially aid in repairing damaged nerves associated with PHN and reducing pain over time.

Modulating Neurotransmitters:

Acupuncture may potentially influence the release and activity of neurotransmitters involved in pain perception, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. By modulating neurotransmitter levels, acupuncture may potentially help regulate pain signals in individuals with PHN.

Enhancing Immune Function:

Acupuncture may potentially enhance immune function by increasing the production of immune cells and enhancing their activity. A strengthened immune response may help the body better combat the herpes zoster virus and reduce the severity of PHN symptoms.

Increasing Endogenous Opioids:

Acupuncture may potentially stimulate the production of endogenous opioids, including beta-endorphins and enkephalins. These natural pain-relieving substances bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, potentially reducing pain sensation in individuals with PHN.

Improving Sleep Quality:

Acupuncture's potential to reduce pain and promote relaxation may lead to improved sleep quality in individuals with PHN. Better sleep may contribute to overall well-being and help manage PHN symptoms more effectively.

Enhancing Tissue Repair:

Acupuncture may promote tissue repair and regeneration by potentially increasing blood flow to the affected area and stimulating the release of growth factors. This may potentially aid in healing damaged nerves associated with PHN.

Regulating Neurotransmitter Levels:

Acupuncture may potentially help regulate the levels of neurotransmitters involved in pain transmission, such as glutamate and substance P. By modulating neurotransmitter activity, acupuncture may potentially help reduce PHN-related pain and discomfort.

Decreasing Sensitivity to Pain:

Acupuncture may help desensitize nerve endings in the affected area, potentially reducing the perception of pain in individuals with PHN. By potentially altering pain signaling pathways, acupuncture may help alleviate PHN-related discomfort.

Improving Quality of Life:

By addressing pain and other symptoms associated with PHN, acupuncture may potentially improve overall quality of life for affected individuals. Reduced pain, improved sleep, and enhanced well-being may allow individuals to engage in daily activities more comfortably despite the condition.

Benefits of acupuncture may vary for each individual. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment for postherpetic neuralgia to ensure it's appropriate for your individual condition.

Additional Strategies to Potentially Help Improve the Symptoms of Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)

In addition to acupuncture, here are some strategies that may potentially help alleviate symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia:

Healthy Diet:

Consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins can support overall health and potentially reduce inflammation, which may help alleviate PHN symptoms.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as chia seeds and flaxseeds, have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce pain and inflammation associated with PHN.

Supplemental Vitamin B12:

Some research suggests that vitamin B12 supplementation may help reduce neuropathic pain associated with PHN. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the proper dosage and before making any changes to your supplementation routine.

Warm Compresses:

Applying warm compresses to the affected area may help increase blood flow, relax muscles, and provide temporary relief from PHN pain.

Cold Therapy:

Alternating between warm and cold therapy may help reduce inflammation and numb the area, providing relief from PHN discomfort. Consult with a healthcare provider before beginning any new treatments for PHN.

Meditation and Mindfulness:

Practices such as meditation and mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve mood, and increase pain tolerance, potentially providing relief from PHN-related discomfort.


Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve flexibility and strength. Certain yoga poses and breathing techniques may help alleviate PHN symptoms and potentially improve overall quality of life.

Tai Chi:

Tai chi is a gentle form of exercise that involves slow, flowing movements and deep breathing. Studies have shown that tai chi may help reduce pain and improve physical function in individuals with chronic pain conditions, including PHN.

Herbal Supplements:

Some herbal supplements may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that may potentially help alleviate PHN symptoms. However, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any herbal supplements, as they may interact with medications or have adverse effects.

Physical Therapy:

Working with a physical therapist may help improve flexibility, strength, and range of motion in the affected area, potentially reducing PHN-related discomfort and improving overall function.

It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new treatment or supplement, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications. Additionally, individual responses to these natural strategies may vary, so it's essential to listen to your body and adjust your approach as needed.

Postherpetic neuralgia may be challenging, but relief is out there. By understanding its symptoms and causes, you can take proactive steps towards treating your discomfort and potentially improving your overall well-being.

Acupuncture may be a potential treatment for relief from the pain and discomfort associated with postherpetic neuralgia. Acupuncture has shown potential benefits in alleviating nerve-related pain, reducing inflammation, and promoting overall well-being. Combined with other natural strategies like proper nutrition, gentle exercise, and stress management techniques, you can create a comprehensive approach to treating your symptoms and supporting your body's healing process.

Remember, finding the right combination of treatments may take time and patience, but don't lose hope. Stay informed, stay proactive, and most importantly, be kind to yourself as you navigate this journey towards better health and well-being. You deserve relief, and it's within reach. Go from nerve pain to nerve'ana, enjoying each day to the fullest.

At Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic, we aim to improve your overall well-being. Dr. Min K. Jeon, our highly experienced acupuncturist, brings a wealth of expertise in acupuncture and complementary therapies to every session. With years of experience treating postherpetic neuralgia, Dr. Min has witnessed significant improvements in many patients' lives.

If you're considering acupuncture as a treatment for postherpetic neuralgia, we encourage you to reach out to us at Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic. Dr. Min is available for a free consultation to discuss your concerns, answer questions, and evaluate your condition. During this consultation, she will create a customized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

Ready to take the next step toward finding potential relief from postherpetic neuralgia? Consider giving acupuncture a try. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation with Dr. Min K. Jeon at the Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic.

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