Vulvodynia (vul-vo-DIN-ee-uh) is a chronic pain condition of the external female genitalia. Many people do not know about this condition unless they, or a loved one, have experienced it themselves. Even when women know about this condition, they don’t like to talk about it – problems in the genitals are still pretty hush hush. Women describe symptoms as an extremely painful burning, itching or throbbing sensation at the entrance to the vagina, labia or other areas of the vulva. Vulvodynia causes intercourse to be painful, can impede daily activities, and often has a negative impact on a woman emotionally and physically. These symptoms may be constant, come and go, or happen only when pressure is applied to the vulva. Generally, there are no visible symptoms which makes the diagnosis even more difficult.
Doctors don’t know the cause of vulvodynia but possibilities include: nerve irritation; muscle spasms; hormonal changes; genetic factors; a hypersensitivity to yeast; sexual abuse; allergies; or irritation caused by certain products. It is a real problem; it is not in your head and you are not crazy or frigid. It is not a sexually transmitted disease.
Currently, common treatments include topical medications like lidocaine and estrogen cream, anti-depressants, physical therapy, biofeedback, surgery (still controversial) and even botox. Most women suffering with vulvodynia use a combination of remedies to provide relief.
Self-Care Suggestions If You Have Vulvodynia
The following tips are easy, can’t hurt, and may provide relief:
- Eliminate any possible environmental irritants like deodorant products, scented soaps, bubble baths, chlorinated water and synthetic fabrics (stick with cotton underwear).
- Some women find that eliminating spicy foods, caffeine and sugar helps.
- Soak in a lukewarm or cool bath.
- Wear loose fitting clothing.
- Stay out of hot tubs.
I’ve mentioned the different possible causes and some treatments above but there is not one sure thing. Effective treatment is difficult to come by. Many women do not know that Chinese Medicine is a highly effective option which is why I am writing this post! In my Chicago acupuncture office, I have treated this problem often and with great success and, before you even ask, “No needles in the genital region.” Relax. I find that points like LI20 (near the nose) FuKe (2 points on the thumb) as well as SP6 (a common gynecological point) provide pain relief. With regular acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, many women find that their painful symptoms are greatly reduced or eliminated and they are able resume an active sex life.
Jennifer Dubowsky, LAc, is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in downtown Chicago, Illinois, since 2002. Dubowsky earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from University of Illinois in Chicago and her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado. During her studies, she completed an internship at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in Beijing, China. Dubowsky has researched and written articles on Chinese medicine and has given talks on the topic. She maintains a popular blog about health and Chinese medicine at Acupuncture Blog Chicago. Adventures in Chinese Medicine is her first book. You can find her at www.tcm007.com.