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Case-control study of the effect of mechanical trauma on the risk of herpes zoster

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 19 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:439

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Personal experience of rib trauma followed by shingles

I am a normally healthy, active, not overweight 62 year old woman.

A week ago (9 Sep 2016), following a couple of days of unexplained back and front pain round my torso, and a row of spots, I was diagnosed with shingles. Luckily the diagnosis was only two days after the spots appeared. so I was prescribed with acyclovir. I am now in discomfort and tired but have nothing like the symptoms I read about on the web. When describing the pain to friends I said it felt like having a broken rib. This got me thinking, since the pain under my right breast is precisely where I fell very hard on the side of the bath in June. The immediate pain was breathtaking and the pain continued for c. 6 weeks, with bruising. I presume I cracked a rib but didn't go to the doctor since I was aware there's not much that can be done and the pain was manageable with paracetamol.

But this made me wonder if there was a link between the pain from the broken rib and the current spots and pain in precisely the same place, since none of the other aggravating factors for shingles applied to me - I'm in good health and am actually in a rather less stressful situation than over the last few years. None of the information I had read on the web when I googled "shingles" suggested trauma. I then googled "trauma" and "shingles" and bingo - here is this paper. On the basis of my tiny sample size of one, I am persuaded that there is a causal link. My doctor did not ask if I had had an accident, I made the potential connection on my own, which I think makes the connection more convincing.

From my perspective my experience adds weight to the theory that trauma can cause shingles (of course I had chicken pox as a child).

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 September 2016
Harriet J Gillett