Vulvodynia is chronic vulvar pain that has no known medical cause.
It affects women of every age, but seems to predominately affect women from about the ages of 18 – 50.
The symptoms include burning, stinging, aching, soreness, throbbing, rawness, and itching in the vulva, as well as painful intercourse. It can last from months to years. The symptoms can be generalized or specific, constant or intermittent – triggered by touch or activities such as sitting, walking, biking, wearing tight clothing, and having sex.
Vulvodynia symptoms can come on slowly or suddenly. They can be triggered by trauma, nerve injury, yeast infection, prolonged antibiotic use, or a history of sexual abuse.
However it shows up, this vulvar pain syndrome significantly impacts a woman's life.
It interferes not only with her ability to have intimate relationships and engage in normal activities like walking and wearing clothes, but it can keep her in bed for days at a time with pain that no doctor has been able to help her heal, and that she is often embarrassed or ashamed to tell anyone about (including her boss, coworkers, family, and friends).
For these reasons, and because the vulva and vagina are such a huge part of a woman's sense of identity, power and creativity, vulvodynia can lead to severe emotional pain, anxiety, depression, and a sense of isolation.
Because vulvodynia has just recently been recognized as a pain syndrome, there are still many health care providers that are not aware of its existence.
When I experienced vulvar pain in 2010, not one of the doctors I saw ever mentioned vulvodynia. They were stumped by my symptoms. There was no identifiable cause (ie yeast or bacteria) so in their view there was nothing wrong. One gynecologist I saw recommended trying massive doses of antibiotics (for a year) in case it was bacterial – even though there was no evidence that it was!
Lack of awareness on the part of healthcare providers combined with women's shame around having and talking about their symptoms makes it very difficult to accurately determine how many women are actually suffering with vulvodynia.
According to Web MD, "Estimates of women with vulvodynia range from 200,000 to six million."
That's quite a range!
As a mind body coach specializing in the treatment of pelvic and sexual pain in women, my guess is that the reality is much closer to 6 million than it is to 200,000.
In her book Ending Female Pain, A Woman's Manual, Isa Herrera says that researchers estimate 12-20% of all women have chronic pelvic pain and that up to 33% of women (1/3) will have pelvic pain during their lifetime. She also includes the fact that as many as 60% of women with chronic pelvic pain never receive a specific diagnosis.
Up until now, the medical treatments for Vulvodynia have been primarily been limited to the avoidance of vulvar irritants, use of oral and topical medicines, vulvar injections, and surgery. Most of which have not been effective at achieving long term (or any) pain relief for many women.
Whatever the numbers, it is clear that there are a lot of women suffering from chronic vulvar pain, and equally clear that so far western medicine has not found any consistent effective treatments for this pain syndrome.
Because western medicine focuses on mechanistic causes and the underlying cause of vulvodynia (in a large majority of cases) is not purely physical. It is mental, spiritual, and emotional.
Vulvodynia is most often caused by what Dr. Howard Schubiner, author of Unlearn Your Pain, calls Mind Body Syndrome.
Mind Body Syndrome is characterized by the fact that there is no irreversible tissue damage. The underlying physiological processes that are causing the pain are driven by thoughts and emotions.
This does not mean the symptoms are not real.
If you've been diagnosed with Vulvodynia, you know very well that your symptoms ARE real.
In fact, women who experience vulvar pain almost always have physical symptoms, like tension in their pelvic floor muscles, which inhibits blood flow to the nerves and tissues in the pelvis and causes pain.
When I say that the cause is not physical, what I am saying is that the physiological symptoms are actually caused by thoughts and emotions, and until the underlying emotions and thought patterns are addressed, the pain will not go away – no matter how many medications or surgeries are tried.
Stressful thoughts and unfelt emotions cause chronic physical tension and activation of the nervous system.
So, if you have trauma or emotions (present or past) that you are not acknowledging, if your life is out of alignment with your soul's desires, if you're under a lot of stress, feeling worried, anxious, or depressed, it Physically affects your body.
Just like when you're embarrassed you blush. Emotion triggers a physiological response in the body.
And until you address this undering cause, unravel your thoughts, feel your emotions, and allow your pain to guide you, it will not go away.
The good news is though, that once you do, it will. And not only will you heal your body, you'll develop increased self awareness, attain a greater understanding of your brain and body, unravel the issues that are causing the pain, and end up living a richer, more vibrant, more joyful life.
If you're suffering with Vulvodynia or Pelvic Pain, a Mind Body approach, that includes fulfilling your relationship with your body, learning how to allow and process your emotions in healthy ways, owning, loving, and embracing your vulva and vagina, in addition to breathing, awareness, stretching, relaxation and massage of the pelvic floor muscles, can not only relieve pelvic pain, but also create radiant health and increase energy, confidence, creativity, and joy.
The way I see what I would describe as this current epidemic of Vulvodynia and Female Pelvic Pain, is as the beginning of a huge shift.
A shift that will connect women more deeply to their bodies, emotions, and souls, and as a result not only heal the women who are currently suffering, but all women, and by extension everyone and everything.
If you're suffering with Vulvodynia, discouraged and overwhelmed because you're not getting better, and afraid of your symptoms and how they're going to affect the rest of your life, you are not alone, and there IS a way out.
Your vulva is communicating with you.
Are you ready to listen?
copyright 2012 Lorraine Faehndrich