Post-herpetic neuralgia is a painful condition that persists after a shingles episode is over. The sharp and shooting pain associated with post-herpetic neuralgia occurs in the same area as that of the pain and rash of shingles and results from the damage to nerve fibres during the shingles infection.
Post-herpetic neuralgia is not generally considered life threatening, though the condition can lead to insomnia, weight loss, depression and even disability in some cases. Patients may also become hypersensitive to even a very light touch or pressure on the skin, such as when touched by hand, a piece of cloth or even a gentle breeze.
Peripheral Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS)
PENS is a potentially ground breaking advance in the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia, as it can be used to treat its severe symptoms of pain in an effective way without the use of strong medication or invasive surgery. Using PENS in the treatment of post-herpetic neuralgia is an effective method without the use of strong medication or invasive surgery.
PENS is actually a fusion of the benefits of TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), with electro-acupuncture. In essence it harnesses the benefits of both into a very effective way of treating pain. TENS is a more familiar treatment, whereby electrical impulses, without needles are passed through the skin to treat the nerve endings and stop them from feeling pain. PENS is slightly different in the sense that the electrical impulses are delivered through the skin.
This fundamental difference in the two applications is actually quite an important one because PENS can directly target the nerve endings that are causing the nerve pain. When a TENS procedure is used, the skin can often act as a barrier and some of the electrical stimulation is lost through the skin’s natural defenses, so a PENS system can get straight to the root of the problem and none of the potency of the electrodes is lost.
PENS uses a low voltage electrical current delivered to the damaged tissue or peripheral nerves to relieve the pain. In effect, it dampens down the overactive nerves that are causing pain. The procedure is performed at the hospital as an outpatient treatment.
PENS therapy does not destroy any nerves; it just makes them less sensitive to pain. A low voltage electrical current is delivered via a specially designed needle to a layer of tissue just below the surface of the skin close to the specific nerve, or to the nerve endings situated in an area that is painful. The needle is placed with a small amount of local anaesthetic on the skin. The needle is connected to a specialised machine that is then turned on and delivers the electrical current. The procedure lasts for about 30 minutes, then the machine is turned off and the needle removed. Patients can go home a short time after this.
This is considered a low risk procedure, with very few side effects, which may include some bruising and tenderness at the probe insertion site. There is a very small risk of infection and nerve damage. Some patients will have total pain relief, while others experience prolonged pain relief for three months or more.