Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a virus that infects the nerve roots of a certain part of the body, commonly the neck or chest. Shingles is actually the same virus as the chickenpox. After an individual contracts chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body. When it "wakes up" in the adult body, it manifests itself as shingles. Shingles occurs more commonly in older adults and people with compromised immune systems. While most who experience shingles will fully recover and never suffer from it again, 12 to 15 percent of individuals will have lasting pain from shingles. The term for lasting shingles pain resulting from nerve damage caused by shingles is "postherpetic neuralgia."


Postherpetic neuralgia occurs when nerve fibers are damaged permanently by the shingles virus. The damaged nerve fibers are unable to properly communicate with the brain, sending exaggerated signals of pain or sensitivity when there is otherwise nothing wrong. Delaying treatment of the initial shingles outbreak increases the chances of having postherpetic neuralgia.


Symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia occur where the original outbreak of shingles occurred, such as the neck, for example. Sufferers of postherpetic neuralgia may experience burning, stabbing pains, sensitivity, deep aching, numbness, or itching. Rare cases of postherpetic neuralgia result in muscle weakness or paralysis.


A chickenpox vaccine is recommended for older adults who have never had the chickenpox or adults who have never been vaccinated for the chickenpox. Because shingles are caused by the chickenpox virus, a chickenpox vaccine can prevent an outbreak of shingles, or at least greatly reduce its severity and lessen the chance for postherpetic neuralgia. Adults who have already had the chickenpox or a chickenpox vaccine can get a shingles vaccine, which is a single preventative injection.

Drug Treatments

Antidepressants may be prescribed to an individual suffering from postherpetic neuralgia even if that individual exhibits no signs of actual depression. Antidepressants are a powerful tool in combating postherpetic neuralgia because they act on the brain's chemistry by regulating the chemicals that control pain signals, serotonin and norepinephrine. Anticonvulsants, commonly prescribed to people who suffer from seizures, can also help reduce postherpetic neuralgia. Oxycodone drugs, such as Oxycontin, are powerful painkillers that may also be prescribed. Lidocaine skin patches may also help if applied to the afflicted area.

Nerve Stimulation Treatments

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is treatment that involves placing electrodes over the afflicted areas. The electrodes emit a small electrical pulse that stimulates the nerve endings, encouraging your body to produce more endorphins, its own natural painkillers. Spinal cord or peripheral nerve stimulation is similar to transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, but the electrodes are embedded beneath the skin. The electrodes are generally implanted beneath the skin on the upper buttocks.