What is Vulvodynia?
According to Zilberman (2015) and the Journal of Chinese medicine, vulvodynia is “a syndrome of chronic vulvar pain of unknown cause that can occur with or without direct contact with the vulvar area.” This condition affects approximately 1 in 8 women. Due to the low level of awareness among medical doctors, patients often undergo exhausting diagnostic procedures and ineffective treatments. But this doesn’t have to be the case!
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine may significantly improve the symptoms of vulvodynia and the patient’s wellbeing. Although acupuncture may be effective as a stand-alone treatment, it can also complement conventional medicine. Acupuncture does not have side effects – it’s a low-risk treatment. So why not visit Centre of Balance Hamilton and see what we have to offer?
Symptoms of Vulvodynia
The severity and type of symptoms experienced by vulvodynia patients are highly individualized. However, women suffering from the condition report one or more of the following sensations around the vulva:
The pain is triggered by simply sitting down, wearing tight-fitting pants, gynaecological exams, tampon insertions, or sexual activity. These symptoms can cause significant psychological, sexual, and physical distress. Patients report difficulties in taking part in routine activities, being intimate, or even exercising. The chronic pain can lead to the following conditions if left untreated:
- Low self-esteem
- Reduced quality of life
It is also important to note that more than 50% of women who are diagnosed with vulvodynia also exhibit other health conditions such as a recurring yeast infection, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and interstitial cystitis.
Please Note: Vulvodynia is often misdiagnosed because it is poorly understood. Women may experience unexplained vulvar pain or burning sensation for several months before they receive an accurate diagnosis and a corresponding treatment.
Practitioners at Centre of Balance Hamilton advise women with any vulvar discomfort to visit a the clinic as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What are the Causes?
It is unclear what causes vulvodynia. Diagnosis is based on an elimination process. Medical practitioners often ask: Is the vulvar pain caused by a generalized neurological disorder, cancer, a sexually transmitted disease, or other infections? If all these conditions are ruled out, then a diagnosis of vulvodynia may be made. Although the diagnosis is evidently difficult, there are a few risk factors as shown below:
- Recurrent yeast infections
- Genetic factors
- Increased sensitisation or density of nerve fibres in the vulva
- The alteration of hormone receptors
- Abnormal response to environmental factors such as injury or infection
- Weakness or spasms of muscles in the pelvic region
- Previous external surgery or laser treatment to the vagina
- Irritation or damage to the pelvic nerve
Conventional treatments for vulvodynia focus on alleviating the symptoms and managing the pain to improve the quality of life. Possible treatments include surgery, counselling, dietary modifications, biofeedback training, physical therapy, topical and oral medication, and expert advice on vulvar skin care. Medical practitioners often recommend multiple strategies due to the complexity and chronic nature of vulvodynia. Whereas these treatments are useful in their own respective ways, they do not fully improve the wellbeing of a patient – the treatments either fail to fully alleviate all the symptoms or result in severe side effects.
The acupuncture treatment will not be in the genital area, but in other places on the body. Acupuncture may relieve anxiety, depression, pain, hormonal imbalances, stimulate the immune system, and promote circulation – all the symptoms associated with vulvodynia. According to a study published in Chinese medicine by Nwanodi & Tidman (2014), acupuncture is a highly effective and safe alternative for vulvodynia treatment. In particular, they made the following conclusions regarding the efficacy of acupuncture:
- Acupuncture needling stimulates the release of opioid peptides through the ‘de chi’ or triggered fullness. Opioid peptides endorphins play a significant role in regulating pain and stress.
- The localisation of healing-promoting substances facilitated by acupuncture increases the transmission rate of electromagnetic nervous signals.
- Acupuncture promotes and rejuvenates the central nervous and the immune system.
- Acupuncture meridians of the spleen, kidney, and liver pass through the genital region. Therefore, distant acupoints on the respective meridians can stimulate a therapeutic response at the vulva – i.e. needling on the vulva is not necessary.
Similarly, an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine titled “Acupuncture for Vulvodynia” studied the effect of acupuncture treatment on 12 patients diagnosed with vulvodynia (Powell & Wojnarowska, 1999). The selection criteria included individuals who had experienced impaired sexual function, severe distress, and other treatments had proven ineffective. Among the 12 patients, 2 declared themselves cured, 3 believed that their symptoms improved significantly, 4 judged acupuncture as the most effective treatment they had experienced, and the remaining 3 recorded no noticeable difference. Moreover, all patients noted that acupuncture had minimal side effects.
Nwanodi, O. B., & Tidman, M. M. (2014). Vulvodynia Treated with Acupuncture or Electromyographic Biofeedback. Chinese Medicine, 5(02), 61.
Powell, J., & Wojnarowska, F. (1999). Acupuncture for vulvodynia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 92(11), 579-581.
Zilberman, O. (2015). The Treatment of Vulvodynia with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. Journal of Chinese Medicine, (109).
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