A new massage client had a request: eight months after an outbreak of shingles, she still had a strip of weird-feeling and painful skin.
What she described sounded like post-herpetic neuralgia, a sensation that an area afflicted by herpes “chickenpox” virus is still active.
And no, she didn’t need an exorcist. Just a good massage.
As a massage therapist I have seen shingles outbreaks in many clients, and for the most part the clients are older than 50. Occasionally I have seen it in young people, usually after a period of high stress at school or in their family life.
Massage therapists steer clear of active shingles, asking clients to get a doctor’s clearance before having a massage. The reason is not for self-protection. Shingles is not catchy. But massage of an active outbreak area can worsen the attack and slow recovery.
That said I have never had someone with active shingles ask for a massage. They have generally been embarrassed by the outbreak and have called to cancel or beg off massages for a while.
Opportunity knocks, however, after the outbreak has ceased. The outbreaks are painful, screwing up sleep patterns and requiring odd sleeping positions to avoid a painful side or back area. When the client is cleared to come on for a massage, he/she is more than ready.
This presentation is classic in shingles, and very painful. Somehow this client had mustered on through a huge deadline at work. When she told me about this determination I had my first clue about how to massage her.
With the client prone, I checked the area of the outbreak for any reddish, hive-looking sores. None. The left side looked same as the right side. I palpated along the spine and asked her to let me know when I was on the spot. I began at T-2, and she pinpointed the spot roughly over T-6. Sometimes the lightest technique can be the most freeing. I tried to skin-roll the section, listening for a pop or some other sign of release.
Lucky for us all it seemed to release the sensation. I suspect the feelings were the result of an adhesion over the area, probably aggravated by the bra. I massaged the length of the T-6 dermatome, under the bra line and to the sternum.
All the area really needed was some TLC. Massage after a shingles outbreak is good indeed. She told me next time she came in that the “shingles ghost” was gone for good.