Shingles causes a painful, blistering rash to appear on one side of the body. Though it often affects the face and torso, it can appear on one leg or the other.

The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes shingles. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox has a chance of developing shingles later in life.

Shingles will affect about 1 in 3 people in the United States at some point in life. About 1 million new cases occur in the U.S. each year.

Anyone who has not had chickenpox or a varicella vaccination can contract VZV. They will develop chickenpox as a result of the initial infection and may later develop shingles.

A person who has shingles blisters on their skin can transmit VZV to others, so they will need to avoid direct contact with people who may contract it. Covering the blisters may help prevent the virus from passing from person to person.

This article reviews shingles appearing on the leg, how to identify it, other causes of a rash, and more.

A person who is jumping and may have shingles on their leg.Share on Pinterest
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), a shingles rash can appear anywhere on the body, including the legs.

However, in most cases, a shingles rash appears as a stripe on either side of the face or on the torso near the waistline.

The National Institute on Aging notes that shingles typically develops on just one side of the body. If the rash develops on the leg, it will likely affect only one leg.

The rash typically appears as a stripe across one side of the body, on only a small area of skin.

In rare cases, the rash may be more widespread and resemble the rash that occurs in chickenpox. This tends to happen in people with weakened immune systems.

Though it may not always be easy to tell whether a rash is shingles, there are a few symptoms to be aware of.

According to the AAD, before the rash appears, a person will likely experience itching, tingling, or pain on the affected area of skin. This can happen several days before the rash develops.

The rash is typically painful and consists of blisters. Some people may develop the blisters before the rash appears.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that the blisters will scab over in 7–10 days and will fully resolve in 2–4 weeks.

A person may develop additional symptoms such as:

Learn more about how to tell whether a rash is shingles.

Several other conditions may cause a rash that looks similar to shingles on the leg. In some cases, it may be difficult for a person to determine what is causing the rash.

Possible causes of a rash on the legs include:

  • Irritant or contact dermatitis: This is a type of eczema that develops as a result of contact with a substance that irritates the skin or causes an allergic reaction.
  • Jock itch: This is a fungal infection that may appear as a raised, half moon-shaped rash on the inner leg, near the groin.
  • Heat rash: This occurs when sweat gets trapped against the skin, causing small, discolored bumps to appear.

A person should contact a doctor if they suspect they may have developed a shingles rash on their leg.

They should also contact a doctor if the rash worsens or if they develop additional symptoms that could indicate shingles, such as an unexplained fever.

Treatment of shingles is most effective when it starts early. If a person notices a rash that they suspect is shingles, they should consult a doctor.

Treatments for shingles typically involve the use of antiviral medications such as:

  • famciclovir
  • acyclovir
  • valacyclovir

These medications can help shorten the duration of the infection.

To manage symptoms, a doctor may prescribe or recommend pain medications. To help with itch, a person may find the following remedies helpful:

  • wet compresses
  • calamine lotion
  • colloidal oatmeal baths

To reduce the risk of transmitting VZV to others, a person should cover the shingles rash. They should also take care to avoid direct contact with people who may be at risk of contracting the virus, including those who are not vaccinated against the virus and have not had chickenpox before.

Vaccinating children against chickenpox can help prevent them from getting shingles in the future.

In adults who have had chickenpox, a single vaccine called Shingrix can help prevent the development of shingles. Experts generally recommend the vaccination for people over age 50.

A shingles rash can develop anywhere on the body, including the leg. However, it typically develops on one side of the torso, usually at the waistline. It can also develop on the face.

The rash typically lasts a few weeks and may come with additional symptoms. Treatment typically involves the use of antiviral medications to help shorten its duration and severity, as well as methods to relieve the itch and pain.