Because so many women afflicted with vulvodynia are misdiagnosed or never diagnosed, the condition remains undocumented and only few statistics are available.
According to researcher-author Elizabeth G. Stewart from Harvard University in Boston, 16 percent of women in the U.S. suffer from some form of vulvodynia in their lifetime, and genital pain was considered to be psychosexual, as opposed to physiological.
Howard Glazer, Ph.D., a clinical professor of psychology and obstetrics and gynecology at Cornell University Medical College in New York City, uses biofeedback to treat vulvodynia. He explained that many women with this disorder also have unstable pelvic floor muscles, which can cause the vulvar area to become hypersensitive, inflamed, and painful.
Biofeedback treatment for vulvodynia allows women to heal themselves by strengthening and stabilizing these muscles as they monitor their own progress. Glazer's method involves inserting a sensor, which is attached to a biofeedback instrument, into the vagina. The instrument then directs patients when to vaginally squeeze and release the sensor, and provides feedback about the strength of each contraction and the amount of tension in the muscle when it is relaxed. This exercise, performed daily, stabilizes pelvic floor muscles and diminishes pain. After nine months, all women using this method improved to some degree, and half are pain-free.
Now in Chicagoland a research study The Treatment of Vulvodynia with Acupuncture is in progress. Women ages 18 and older are invited to join study. This confidential study will measure the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating the pain and discomfort associated with this illness. Women who qualify will receive ten free acupuncture treatments over the course of a five-week period.
“Women are suffering in silence,” comments Judith M. Schlaeger, CNM, LAc, who developed the study. A certified nurse midwife and licensed acupuncturist who describes vulvodynia as a disease of epidemic proportions. “Western medicine is at best ‘hit or miss’ in treating vulvodynia,” she explains, referring to treatments such as botox injections, estrogen and lidocaine creams, antidepressants, and even surgery.
The promising results of an earlier study convinced Schlaeger that acupuncture can successfully treat vulvodynia. However, studies with larger groups are required to quantify these findings. Traditional Chinese Medicine considers a blocked qi to be the source of chronic pain, and it is the block in the genitals. "Placing needles in certain acupuncture points of the body helps to unblock the qi, allowing it to flow smoothly” says Schlaeger who trained in both Western and Eastern medicine. With a unique approach to treat vulvodynia, Schlaeger feels that her perspective is unique, and it is her duty to perform this study.
To join or learn more about the study contact Schlaeger at (708) 334-1097, or the National Vulvodynia Association in Silver Spring, MD, telephone 301-299-0775.