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Acupuncture for the treatment of severe acute pain in Herpes Zoster: results of a nested, open-label, randomized trial in the VZV Pain Study

Tamara Ursini1, Monica Tontodonati1, Lamberto Manzoli2, Ennio Polilli1, Cristina Rebuzzi3, Gabriele Congedo4, Sonia Di Profio3, Patrizia Marani Toro5, Augusta Consorte1, Giuseppina Placido1, Stefano Laganà4, Claudio D'Amario5, Carla Granchelli5, Giustino Parruti1*, Lucio Pippa4 and the VZV Pain Study Group

  • * Corresponding author: Giustino Parruti

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Infectious Diseases Unit, Pescara General Hospital, Pescara, Italy

2 Section of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Chieti, Italy

3 Pain Management Clinic, Pescara General Hospital, Pescara, Italy

4 Fondazione Onlus Camillo de Lellis per l'Innovazione e la Ricerca in Medicina, Pescara, Italy

5 Pescara Health District, Pescara, Italy

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-46

Published: 5 June 2011



Data on the potential efficacy of acupuncture (AC) in controlling intense or very intense pain in patients with Herpes Zoster (HZ) has not been so far adequately assessed in comparison with standard pharmacological treatment (ST) by a controlled trial design.


Within the VZV Pescara study, pain was assessed in HZ patients on a Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) and by the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) both at the beginning and at the end of treatment. Response rates, mean changes in pain intensity, differences in total pain burden with an area-under-the-curve (AUC) method over a 1-year follow-up and differences in the incidence of Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN) were evaluated.


One hundred and two patients were randomized to receive either AC (n = 52) or ST (n = 50) for 4 weeks. Groups were comparable regarding age, sex, pain intensity at presentation and missed antiviral prescription. Both interventions were largely effective. No significant differences were observed in response rates (81.6% vs 89.2%, p = 0.8), mean reduction of VAS (4.1 +/- 2.3 vs 4.9 +/- 1.9, p = 0.12) and MPQ scores (1.3 +/- 0.9 vs 1.3 +/- 0.9, p = 0.9), incidence of PHN after 3 months (48.4% vs 46.8%, p = 0.5), and mean AUC during follow-up (199 +/- 136 vs 173 +/- 141, p = 0.4). No serious treatment-related adverse event was observed in both groups.


This controlled and randomized trial provides the first evidence of a potential role of AC for the treatment of acute herpetic pain.

Trial registration