Introduction

Vulvodynia is a very common chronic pain syndrome in the vulva, which is the outer part of the female genitals. It includes the opening of the vagina (the vestibule), the outer lips (labia majora), the inner lips (labia minora), and the clitoris. Incidence rates are suspected to be as high as 17% of the population! So fear not, girls, you definitely are not alone.

Vulvodynia literally translates to pain of the vulva (the suffix “–dynia” means pain).

There are two kinds of vulvodynia, generalised and localised:

Generalised vulvodynia, as the name suggests, means pain is not limited to a specific area.

Localised vulvodynia, on the other hand, is fixed to a specific area of the vulva. Most commonly, women with localised vulvodynia experience pain in the vestibule, called vestibulodynia. The vestibule contains the glands that provide lubrication during intercourse. Less often, localised vulvodynia may also be located at the clitoris (clitorodynia).

As mentioned, vulvodynia is a chronic syndrome, which means it can last a long time and does not have a definitive treatment. Spontaneous recovery is possible, however, the longer the history, the less likely this becomes. The cause (etiology) of vulvodynia is largely unknown, although there is reason to believe pelvic floor dysfunction plays an important role as it is almost universally present in women with vulvodynia.

Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles along the bottom of the pelvis. They support the pelvic organs including the bladder, the bowel, and the uterus, and wrap around the urethra, rectum, and vagina. Women presenting with vulvodynia also display abnormalities in these muscles such as high resting tension (muscle clenching), muscle irritability, and overall muscle weakness. Physiotherapy and biofeedback aimed at normalising pelvic floor function has often seen significant reductions in women’s reported pain (see more information under “treatments”).

Updated 16th July 2017