What is vulvodynia? What causes vulvodynia?

Qu'est-ce que la vulvodynie ? Quelles sont les causes ?
In collaboration with Sabrina Fajau, Physiotherapist

Relecture professionnelle

What is vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is chronic pain. Most often, the patient feels discomfort, a kind of burning.

The diagnosis of vulvodynia is one of elimination. Before evoking vulvodynia, we rule out the possibility of dermatosis, i.e. skin damage, but also neurological damage and genital malformation. The diagnosis of vulvodynia is then made.

The diagnosis of vulvodynia is not a simple one, and often leads to speeches such as "it's all in your head, ma'am", when the pain is really there.

What are the symptoms of vulvodynia?

The symptoms of vulvodynia are most often pain all along the vulva, including the labia majora. If the pain is only localized at the entrance to the vagina, it's called vestibulodynia. Most of the time, the pain is characterized by a burning sensation associated with tingling, pulling, dryness or pinching. These pains can be sudden, but can also be triggered by contact (intercourse, bicycles, tight clothing, etc.).

People with vulvodynia may also experience other types of pain more frequently, such as :

  • a regular need to urinate
  • lower abdominal pain
  • fibromyalgia
  • irritable bowel syndrome

What causes vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is caused by a disturbance in the pain system. Normally, pain is a signal that warns of tissue damage. In vulvodynia, the brain receives "pain" information when in fact there is no tissue damage, and the pain blocking system fails.

How can vulvodynia be cured?

Management of vulvodynia takes time and requires a multidisciplinary approach. A gynecologist, dermatologist, physiotherapist and, in rare cases, a psychotherapist, sex therapist or surgeon (in exceptional cases) are all involved.

In the first instance, a local topical treatment is proposed, i.e. creams applied locally to the vulva. The problem with these creams is that treatment is often disappointing.

Next, antidepressants are used to treat the problem. Antidepressants have an effect on the central nervous system, and therefore on the nerve impulses responsible for pain. Prescribing antidepressants therefore helps to reduce pain. It is therefore often important to educate patients about pain, explaining how the brain and nerves work, and why they have been prescribed an antidepressant when they are not depressed and the pain is not in their head, but that this treatment does help to reduce neurological pain. The key here is to work with mental health professionals. Sophrologists can also help with relaxation and reducing fear of pain during penetration.

Behavioral psychotherapy can also be considered.

Physiotherapy can also help with pelvic re-education, assisted by electrostimulation and biofeedback. We're talking here about electrostimulation in terms of TENS, i.e. painkillers that can be applied to the lower back, for example, to work on the nerves. Even in the field of physiotherapy, treatment is multi-faceted. We often focus on perineal relaxation, because without necessarily talking about vaginismus (reflex contraction of the muscles at the entrance to the vagina) - which can be one of the consequences of vulvodynia, but is not necessarily linked - patients often have a hypertonic perineum, because they contract from pain. They're contracted, so when the muscles are contracted, they squeeze the nerve a little. It's a vicious circle. The main physiotherapy treatment is therefore perineal relaxation using manual biofeedback, which involves giving the patient information to relax her perineum. It can also be combined with respiratory work to relax the diaphragm. Specialized physiotherapy is therefore one of the mainstays of treatment for vulvodynia sufferers.

In exceptional cases, surgery may be proposed as a last resort.

How can I look after my vulva?

First of all, the basic rules of hygiene for caring for your vulva:

- After sexual intercourse or going to the toilet, wipe from front to back. If you wipe from back to front, bacteria from the anal area will come to the vulva and risk infecting the vaginal and vulvar area.

- Don't sleep in tight underwear, as this will encourage infection.

- Use cotton sanitary towels or menstrual pants, and organic cotton if possible. That's what Elia menstrual panties are all about. They're softer and more comfortable than other menstrual pads, which can increase irritation.

Related subject: What is vestibulodynia?

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The information contained in the articles on www-elia-lingerie.com is general information only. Although reviewed by health professionals, this information is not error-free, does not constitute health advice or consultation, and is not intended to provide a diagnosis or suggest a course of treatment. Under no circumstances may this information be used as a substitute for medical advice or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please consult your doctor.