Have you heard of vulvodynia? As both a woman and acupuncturist I have a particular interest in women’s health and am extremely passionate about shining a light on varying women’s health conditions, not just the more known ones, but the lesser known ones as well, such as vulvodynia. Yes, sometimes I must admit it feels like us women have been dealt the short straw when it comes to the health conditions we may experience and have to endure! It may or may not come as a surprise but more women than you think suffer from vulvodynia, many experiencing the pain and associated symptoms for years before actually being diagnosed. It’s one of those conditions that often flies under the radar in terms of social awareness and support, but is actually an extremely common condition affecting many women of all ages, which is why I want to bring awareness to it and explain a little more about what is vulvodynia, and how acupuncture may assist.
What is vulvodynia?
To give you a brief overview on what is vulvodynia; vulvodynia is classified as chronic pain typically of the vulvar region with no known cause. For some the pain is localised to the vulvar and for others the pain can extend into surrounding areas, and thus is referred to as generalised vulvodynia. For those where the pain is isolated to the clitoral region it is often known as or clinically referred to as clitorodynia. The pain can present in varying ways from an intense discomfort to stabbing pains, throbbing, burning, and other extremely uncomfortable sensations. For some the pain and associated symptoms also extend to around the urethra, the anus, when passing a bowel motion and even to the inside of the legs, upper thighs and into the bladder region. Vulvodynia is a hypersensitivity of the nerve endings with no known cause. Some women experiencing the pain and discomfort constantly, while for others it can come and go or be provoked by certain activities such as sexual intercourse, sitting for long periods of time, inserting a tampon, wearing tight clothing, touch and gynaecological examinations.
Treatments and how acupuncture may help vulvodynia symptom management
Without an identifiable cause, the treatment for vulvodynia is usually centred around reducing symptom severity and helping women to manage the pain physically and also emotionally. Conditions like vulvodynia often cause emotional stress, stress around sexual intercourse and can affect emotional health, as well as relationships, contribute to feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. Every woman is different, which is what makes us all so unique and what may or may not assist in management of the condition is very individual.
Some practices and treatments which are often utilised or explored in the management of vulvodynia are topical anaesthetics, pelvic floor muscle therapy with a trained women’s health physiotherapist, biofeedback, nerve blocking medications as well as complimentary holistic practices such as acupuncture.
Acupuncture is often used alongside Western medicine and other holistic practices in the areas of women’s health and pain management. Viewing the body as a whole through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture for some women can provide relief and management of chronic pain, as well as assist in the management of emotional stress that often is associated with conditions such as vulvodynia. Supporting the body through enhancing the flow of life force and energy, typically referred to as chi or Qi (pronounced kee) within each individual, as well as assisting the body to move into the parasympathetic nervous system known as our rest and digest, acupuncture may assist sufferers of vulvodynia with management of the condition and associated symptoms. A trained acupuncturist will view your body and your history on an individual basis and use a variety of techniques from pulse diagnosis to palpation, insertion of fine needles into acu pressure points, cupping and moxibustion to help the body move into a state of balance and flow, and to allow the muscles and nerves to relax.
If you suffer from vulvodynia, please know that you are not alone, this condition is more common than you may realise, and support can be extremely beneficial in conditions where chronic pain is associated. If you would like to explore acupuncture as a support for this condition specifically, or for any women’s health conditions or concerns or just for general wellbeing, I would love to be able to guide and support you on your journey. I am extremely passionate about my work as an acupuncturist and working with my patients to assist them with their health and wellbeing. If you would like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch, I look forward to chatting to you and meeting you soon.
Anon, 2020. Vulvodynia- Symptoms and Causes.[online] Mayo Clinic, Accessed 6 July 2020, Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vulvodynia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353423>
Schlaeger,J.M., Xu, N., Meita, C.L, Park, C.G and Wilkie, D.J. (2015). Acupuncture for the Treatment of Vulvodynia; A Randomized Wait- List Controlled Pilot Study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, [online] 12(4), pp. 1019-1027, Accessed 6 July 2020, Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1743609515309899
The National Vulvodynia Association. (n.d.), What is Vulvodynia? [online], Accessed 6 July 2020, Available at https://www.nva.org/what-is-vulvodynia/
Vulvodynia, www.vulvalpainsociety.org. (n.d) [online], Accessed 6 July 2020, Available at http://www.vulvalpainsociety.org/vps/index.php/vulval-conditions/vulvodynia