What to Avoid with Shingles: Your FAQs

Shingles can trigger pain, itching, and a lot of discomfort. When you have shingles, caring for your skin is one step in the healing process. Another is understanding which daily activities you can continue and which ones to avoid until the skin rash is gone.

Here, we answer four questions people often ask about shingles, covering which activities to avoid, what causes flare-ups, how to avoid aggravating shingles, and when to prioritize rest.

Whether or not you can continue with your regular activities while dealing with an active shingles infection depends on how you feel and whether you’re still contagious.

Some people experience minor symptoms, while others have severe pain, itching, burning, and widespread, fluid-filled blisters for several weeks.

If your rash is oozing, you can spread shingles to other people. If the rash hasn’t scabbed over yet, and it’s in an area that can’t be covered, consider:

  • staying home from work, school, or other daily activities where you interact with others
  • avoiding contact sports and swimming
  • not sharing towels, blankets, or clothes without washing them first

Additionally, shingles can cause flu-like symptoms like fever, headache, and upset stomach, which can derail your regular daily activities.

Assess your pain levels

In general, most people with active shingles infections can perform daily activities as tolerated, but your pain rating can help you decide when to do a specific exercise or activity and when to avoid it. Consider using a numerical pain rating scale, which has you rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst possible pain.

Make a note of your pain level each day and if a particular activity worsened it. Consider writing it down in a journal or as a note in your phone. That way, you can track which activities affect your pain levels and adjust accordingly.

Avoid intense or irritating movement

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, shingles rashes most often appear on the trunk of the body, which includes your:

Shingles rashes can also occur on the:

With that in mind, it’s best to avoid activities that require you to lay on these areas, like exercising on the floor or a workout bench. For instance, if you’re doing gentle yoga, skip any poses that have you lying in the prone or supine position, where your belly or back are touching the floor, respectively.

Additionally, intense cardiovascular exercise like running or cycling may irritate a shingles rash, especially in the early stages.

As you heal, consider switching to lower-intensity workouts like walking until the blisters dry up and crust over. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA)this generally takes around 7 to 10 days after a rash appears.

If possible, hold off on high intensity exercise until the scabs are completely cleared up, which may take 2 to 5 weeks.

Most people who get shingles will have a “one and done” type of experience. In other words, they’ll get it and likely never have it again. That said, there are some people who get shingles more than once.

Here’s how it happens: the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox, lies dormant in nerve cells after you recover from chickenpox or shingles.

For the most part, the virus stays inactive after your shingles symptoms subside and you’ve healed. But certain risk factors can trigger flare-ups and cause the virus to reactivate. Experts call this recurring shingles.

A 2021 review looked at the incidences of first and recurrent shingles episodes and found that the average time between infections was 2 years for people ages 45 to 54 and 3 years for those ages 55 and older.

In addition, of the participants who experienced a flare-up, the incidence was higher in those who were immunosuppressed compared to people with healthy immune systems.

In other words, if you have a compromised or weakened immune system, you have a greater chance of getting shingles again. This can happen if you:

  • are undergoing chemotherapy
  • recently had an organ or bone marrow transplant
  • have HIV
  • have physical and emotional stress

Age is another risk factor for a shingles recurrence. HALF of all shingles cases are in adults over the age of 60.

Getting too much sun exposure and having a more severe and longer-lasting case of shingles the first time can also trigger flare-ups.

Even something as common as a cold or stress can weaken your immune system for a short time and make you susceptible to a shingles recurrence, according to the NIA.

While flare-ups are difficult to prevent, you can reduce your risk by getting the shingles vaccine.

Avoiding triggers that may aggravate your skin should be a priority when you have active shingles. Taking antiviral drugs as prescribed by your doctor can reduce the length and severity of shingles.

But your habits during this time can also determine how quickly you recover. The best course of action is to avoid things that may aggravate shingles. This includes:

  • not getting enough rest
  • taking on too many responsibilities or activities that may increase stress levels, which can make the pain worse, according to the NIA
  • picking and scratching at the rash, which can delay healing and increase the risk of a bacterial infection
  • not allowing a rash to dry completely before applying a calamine lotion or covering it with a bandage
  • wearing tight-fitting clothing that irritates an open rash – if you plan on wearing something tight, make sure to bandage any areas with shingles (otherwise, opt for loose-fitting clothing until your skin heals)
  • participating in exercise or physical activity that causes friction and irritation on your skin, especially if you have a rash in the area
  • doing activities that result in a lot of sweating, like running

Rest is critical when you have shingles.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the right self-care, which includes plenty of rest, can ease discomfort.

This is especially true if you develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is ongoing pain after a shingles rash goes away, according to the NIA.

Pain from PHN can remain long term even when the rash disappears. This pain can cause:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • sleeplessness
  • weight loss

Plus, PHN may make it difficult to go about daily activities, including physical activity and exercise.

In addition to getting enough rest as you heal from shingles, be sure to eat well-balanced meals and avoid stress as much as possible. Stress can make the pain feel worse.

Instead of pushing it too hard while you’re managing or recovering from an active shingles infection, consider trying a few relaxing activities to take your mind off the pain, like:

  • meditation
  • mindfulness
  • light stretching
  • hobbies and activities you enjoy, including reading or watching TV

Shingles can disrupt your life and make it challenging to continue with some daily activities.

Adjusting your lifestyle and opting for lower-intensity exercise may help with the pain and allow the rash to heal faster. If possible, rest more, avoid stressful situations, and be kind to yourself as you go through this process.

Most people can monitor activity levels and adjust accordingly, but if you have any questions or concerns, be sure to talk to your doctor or healthcare professional right away. They can help you determine if your current activities and exercise are appropriate during a shingles flare.

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