What You Need to Know About Shingles on Your Leg and Groin

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful rash that occurs in up to one-third of people. It is caused by the reactivation of varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chicken pox.

Shingles usually occurs on the torso and face, but it may also occur on other parts of the body like the groin, leg, and penis. Shingles affects the nerves and skin, causing itchy, scaly rashes that can form into clusters of fluid filled vesicles that may resolve over the course of one to two weeks. 

This article discusses shingles on the leg and groin, along with the symptoms, causes, and treatment for this illness.

HCP looking at legs

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Symptoms

Shingles on your legs presents similarly to shingles anywhere else on your body

It usually starts as pain, itching, or tingling for a couple of days in the area where the rash will eventually develop. Then a localized rash appears in a distinct band-like pattern on the leg. The rash may be flat first before forming clusters of fluid-filled blisters that progressively dry out and peel off over the course of three to five days.

Additional associated symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to bright light)
  • Malaise
  • Sensitivity to touch in the affected area
  • Upset stomach

Causes of Shingles on the Legs and Groin 

People develop shingles after having had chicken pox in their childhood.

The main cause, the varicella-zoster virus, remains dormant (inactive) in the nervous system and reactivates when triggered. The exact trigger of dormant VZV reactivation is unknown but the following risk factors have been shown to put you at higher risk of developing a shingles outbreak:

  • Weakened immune system, such as from taking immunosuppressive medication after an organ transplant, undergoing chemotherapy, contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), developing diabetes, or after a bone marrow transplant
  • Older age, particularly more than 50 years old
  • Experiencing high levels of physical or emotional stress
  • Cancer, especially leukemia and lymphoma

It is unclear why shingles will develop on the leg and groin as opposed to the face or torso, the more common areas of VZV reactivation.

What Does Shingles Look Like? 

The appearance of shingles can depend on:

  • The severity of your infection
  • Pigmentation of your skin
  • Where the infection occurs on your body

Shingles may be reddish in appearance on fair skin, but may look brown or simply like darker colored pigmentation on more melanated (darker) skin tones. Shingles most commonly appears in these two stages:

  • Scaly rashes
  • Clusters of fluid-filled blisters

Treatment 

Early shingles on your leg may be treated with creams and lotions to relieve pain and itching. Using a cool compress may also provide symptomatic relief. Several medications have been shown to be helpful, but their effectiveness is based on the time you start using them, the extent of disease, and your overall health. 

Generally, the earlier you start taking antiretroviral medication, the better. These medications include Sitavig or Zovirax (acyclovir), Valtrex (valacyclovir), and Famvir (famciclovir). Early antiretroviral use—that is, taking these medications as soon as you experience pain or see the appearance of a rash—has been shown to shorten the length and severity of the illness.

If these medications do not work, your healthcare provider may prescribe the following drugs to help provide relief:

  • Steroid (steroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Capsaicin patches 

How to Prevent It

Vaccination with the recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV), also known as Shingrix, is the single most effective way to prevent shingles and its complications.

Getting vaccinated is particularly important for those who are immunocompromised or more than 50 years old. In fact, two doses of the Shingrix vaccine have been shown to be 90% effective.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have had chicken pox in the past and are experiencing pain, itchiness, or tingling in a band-like pattern on the body, you should reach out to a healthcare provider. The sooner you get treated with antiviral medication, the more likely it is that you will avoid serious medical complications.

Summary

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash that occurs in up to one-third of people. It is caused by reactivation of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and usually occurs in a band-like pattern on the torso or face, but it can also occur on other parts of the body, such as the groin and leg.

A Word From Verywell 

Unexplained pain and blisters on your legs may be a sign of shingles. Knowing the symptoms to watch out for can make it easier for you to spot the early signs of shingles. Untreated shingles can lead to rare life-threatening medical conditions like encephalitis. It's important to be vaccinated against shingles and to see a healthcare provider for treatment if it does develop.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does shingles on the leg and groin last?

    Your shingles rash will usually clear up between two and four weeks, although the duration of your symptoms is likely to be shorter with treatment.

  • Do shingles look like pimples?

    Shingles usually has a distinct look that differentiates it from pimples or allergic reactions. Shingles may also change appearance during its disease course: It starts out as a collection of flat and scaly blisters and quickly progresses to a cluster of fluid-filled blisters that may pop and dry out over time. 

  • Is shingles contagious?

    You cannot pass shingles from one person to another, but an open blister contains live VZV virus, the cause of chicken pox. Therefore, if you are unvaccinated and have never had chicken pox and you come into contact with an open shingles blister, you may develop chicken pox.

  • Do shingles appear only in one area of the body?

    Shingles can occur almost anywhere on the body, including the face, groin, and legs, but it most commonly affects one or two adjacent bands (dermatomes) on the trunk of the body.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Aging. Shingles.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster) clinical overview.

  3. Izurieta HS, Wu X, Forshee R, et al. Recombinant zoster vaccine (Shingrix): real-world effectiveness in the first 2 years post-licensure. Clin Infect Dis. 2021;73(6):941-948. doi:10.1093/cid/ciab125

By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.