Chiropractic Shingles

Caused by a virus? Stress? Other ...

Keywords; chiropractic shingles.

The diagnosis of Chiropractic Shingles usually comes about quite by accident. A patient with nerve pain of unknown origin, mostly starting in the midback and then spreading around the trunk, consults a chiropractor with back or chest pain, or on the face or scalp perhaps, and very occasionally down the leg, before the characteristic shingles rash becomes evident.

It appears to come in two forms. One where there is mid back pain on inspiration, and the other just a pain in the back.

There are few places where the medical "virus or bacteria" model confrfonts the chiropractic "irritated or frankly pinched nerve" more head on and with more difficulty. The patient often presents with deep breathing pain: signs of a rib head subluxation.

There are three facets on the vertebrae for the attachment of the rib, each capable of provoking very sharp pain when subluxated. There is nothing unusual so far; these are symptoms seen almost daily at the Chiropractic Coalface.

Normally speaking, an attack of "medical shingles" has no inspiration pain. "Chiropractic shingles" presents first with the typical signs of a rib head subluxation, followed by the rash. Was this a chiropractic misdiagnosis?

I believe not. A rib head subluxation, like all subluxations, makes the vulnerable patient open to viral and bacterial attack. Under stress? The rib subluxation patient gets shingles.

Chiropractic subluxations are usually found by the chiropractor in that part of the spine enervating the painful patch of skin, and the patient is duly treated for a chiropractic subluxation. Then the shingles rash appears, much to the chiropractor's (and patient's) consternation: an incorrect diagnosis has seemingly been made.

My only defence is that medicine often doesn't diagnose the disease correctly either until the rash appears. I recently had a patient referred to me by a doctor for a pinched nerve - all three of us, the patient, her doctor and myself - were quite caught by surprise three days later.

Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin that is supplied by it, usually causing face pain or chest pain, although it may occasionally cause a sciatic pain in the buttock and leg. It is caused by the herpes varicella-zoster virus which also causes chickenpox.

Most people have chickenpox as a child, but after the illness has gone, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the nervous system. The immune system keeps the virus in check, but later in life it can become reactivated, and cause chiropractic shingles, and most likely chest pain.

About 1 in 5 people get shingles at some point in their life. Although it can occur at any age, it is most common in people aged over 50. Shingles usually affects the nerve supply on one side of the body. The main symptoms are chest pain, or face pain and a rash.

You can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you've never had the infection.

The skin blisters that form in shingles are full of the chickenpox virus, which means the patient is infectious.

You can't catch it from someone with shingles (or someone with chickenpox).

But you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you've never had the infection and therefore aren't immune.

Most adults, about 95 per cent, have been exposed to chickenpox and are immune, even though many aren't aware of it (they may have had only a mild dose when they were young).

However, a small number of adults aren't immune and will be at risk.

Also, when the immune system is suppressed (for example, when someone is being treated for cancer, or is HIV positive), a person can catch chickenpox for a second time.

Who's affected?

Around one in four or five people will develop shingles in their lifetime, with men and women affected equally. It's most common in older people, although it can also occur in younger people and those with a weakened immune system, or those excessively stressed. Perhaps too by subluxations, which may be why this condition may respond well to chiropractic shingles.

What are the symptoms?

The first sign of chiropractic shingles is usually midback pain followed by  excessively sensitive, tingling or burning skin where the shingles rash subsequently appears.

Sometimes, there may be fever, headache and enlarged lymph nodes.

After a few days, the characteristic shingles rash appears as a band or patch of red spots on the side of the trunk or face, and occasionally on the buttock and down the leg. In or around the eye it can be serious.

It usually appears on one side only. The rash develops into fluid-filled blisters that then collapse, forming small ulcers. These dry out and form crusts.

If you enjoy reading then you will love chiropractor Bernard Preston's yarns from his own Coalface and his life. For more information about Preston's books, click here. Bernard Preston home page...


Two years ago, this chiropractor was under a lot of stress. And I mean a lot: deep conflict with another chiropractor. Civil war is always the worst. Fortunately I was still having my regular chiropractic adjustment - about once every two months.

The other chiropractor developed the worst torticollis I have ever seen. And I got shingles. Fortunately both the torticollis and shingles responded well to good chiropractic care. Luckily my own shingles was one of the lightest I have ever seen - a few vesicles on the scalp following the course of the Ophthalmic nerve, but fortunately didn't infect the eye. What's more, my doctor also didn't diagnose it correctly - she thought it was sinusitis. It's the only time I've taken drugs, the wrong medicine, in the last five years.

The dumb things human beings get themselves into. That's real chiropractic shingles

What's the treatment?

The shingles virus can be treated with antiviral medication. Painkillers can relieve the chest pain or facial pain, while calamine lotion should help to reduce the itching.

Shingles that affects the eye requires antiviral therapy and urgent referral to an ophthalmologist.

If someone with a weakened immune system is exposed to shingles they are usually referred to hospital for possible intravenous antiviral therapy, as they're at very high risk of complications from chickenpox.

An injection of immunoglobulin or antiviral antibodies from someone recently infected may be effective in treating shingles.

This doesn't prevent the disease, but may reduce the length and severity of the infection, and the risk of complications. The sooner immunoglobulin is given, the more effective it is likely to be. It must be given within 96 hours to have a significant effect.

The treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia can involve painkillers, capsaicin cream and, if necessary, specific antidepressants.

You could make your own hot chili pepper cream by mixing a little of the seeds and placenta of a jalapeno with warm vaseline and applying to the area. Wash your hands thoroughly.

As stated above, chiropractic and shingles treatment is usually applied quite by accident, spinal subluxations being located and presumed to be the cause of the pain. In the author's experience, patients with chest pain from shingles who are treated with chiropractic usually recover from the condition very quickly, and intractable post herpectic pain is rare. Concommitant medical treatment is advised, particularly if the face is involved.

To my knowledge, there is no research confirming (or denying) that chiropractic treatment is an effective treatment for the chest pain of shingles. This is simply anecdotal, and may or may not be valid. But chiropractic shingles is certainly worth a thought before it becomes chronic nasty pain.

Post-herpetic neuralgia

A common complication of the chest pain or facial pain from shingles is pain in the area of the rash that persists after the rash has disappeared, called post-herpetic neuralgia. It may be severe and last for several years. Simply the touching of a shirt for example may cause excessive irritation and chest pain. People with intractable post-herpetic pain often become depressed. Post-herpetic neuralgia is more likely to occur the older you are. Don't allow shingles to become chronic. Or any other condition for that matter. Deal with it. Consider chiropractic shingles as one of your options.

An aside. When is the right time to consult your doctor or chiropractor? There is no easy answer. No doctor in his right mind would suggest you have to rush off and make an appointment for a cough or cold, or a little pain in the back. My rules for what it's worth are:

  • If you have a new pain, tingling, breathlessness ... take it more seriously than an old familiar friend. Enemy?
  • If you have pain in the chest on the left side, it's best to get to the emergency rooms immediately. This is not the time to be thinking about chiropractic shingles. It's probably not a heart attack brewing, but if it is ... Heart attack signs ...
  • After a period, ask yourself this question, and give an honest answer: Is it getting better?
  • If a pain in the neck or back starts to radiate down a limb, or around the chest, then it's best not to delay. See your chiropractor. It could be chiropractic shingles, but more likely a subluxation in your spine. For more about pain and tingling in the limbs, click here. TINGLING IN ARMS AND HANDS ...

  • If you have a headache, fever and a very stiff neck then go IMMEDIATELY to the emergency rooms. The meningitis bug is an unfriendly little beast.

  • If you have severe pain in the tum, back, neck ... then it's best not to delay.

Best advice. Use your common sense. With chiropractic shingles too. Like any other problem, if you think it's not getting better as you would expect, then it's time to make a move.

The good news

This is an unresearched, perhaps unconvincing opinion but I've never had a patient with "chiropractic shingles" go on and develop months and months of post-herpetic neuralgia.

The patient comes to the chiropractor "by mistake". A "wrong" diagnosis is made; the patient develops a shingles rash. The chiropractor's name is mud. S/he has seriously deficient diagnostic skills. He is a quack. But the patient recovers in double quick time. Two years down the road s/he is not still suffering from a very irritating neuralgic pain. Simply the contact between shirt and skin is painful.

It's not an easy condition to diagnose prior to the emergence of the rash, and the answer to this conundrum is probably decades away.

Question: Does every patient with "medical shingles" have a subluxation at the nerve root or rib head? I wonder...


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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Mrs T looked like the leaning tower of Pisa; she had a slipped disc at L5 making her lean towards the opposite side. It's called the postero lateral disc hernia; she's much better after two weeks of treatment and will go back to work next week, part time. Lateral discs are more difficult; both take a minimum of six weeks to heal. In my opinion, antalgic patients need what I call exercising bed rest. Sit and it won't get better.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months. He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the groin pain, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your lower back is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her hip, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Hypermobility is more difficult that too stiff in my opinion. Chiropractic is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.

Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70% of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there's a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong! Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what chiropractors do.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my ebooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful, from the life and work of a chiropractor, you'll love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the price without telling me.