I was so delighted to see this story in the papers “It affects millions, but many are too embarrassed to seek help”.(1)  It is about a young woman called Ruby who’s life was ruled by excruciating pain in her vulva when she sat down for longer than an hour. She describes her pain as “a burning in her seat area that would grow in intensity until it felt akin to being cut by shards of glass.” This is vulvodynia. A condition we hardly hear about, as it is difficult to talk about, and difficult too for GPs to diagnose; often mistaken for cystitis or thrush. Yet it affects 1 in 7 women, at some point in their lives (2).

Ruby was recommended acupuncture by the online UK forum Vulval Pain Society that one of my patients helped to found.

Ruby writes how empowering it is to discover you are not alone, and to gain understanding and insight into the treatment and care of vulvodynia. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, local anaesthetics and surgery, alongside avoiding irritants, pelvic floor physical therapy and acupuncture.

Although not offered to all women on the NHS, acupuncture is a good first treatment choice, because it is gentle, non-invasive and safe. Evidence it is effective for vulvodynia is also growing, and in 2015, after four successful pilot trials (3-6), an expert committee added acupuncture to the list of most promising treatment strategies (2) and a large study is now being funded by the US National Institute for Health.

My patients love how relaxing treatment is, and like Ruby, often experience other positive changes in health. “My symptoms started to reduce almost immediately. I also think acupuncture has helped to regulate my irregular periods, clear up my acne-prone skin, and even helped me have a child, after five miscarriages.”

 Typically change is felt within the first and fourth acupuncture treatment, and we are often able to go on to clear all signs of inflammation and pain. However, in cases where there has been a significant trauma to the vulva, perhaps following childbirth, it may not be possible to completely address the pain; but by reducing the severity, women often feel better able to cope, and have the emotional resilience to better consider their options going forward.

Ali works at the York Clinic in York. If you’d like to find out more about acupuncture for vulvodynia, please do contact Ali Longridge (ali.longridge@icloud.com) via her confidential email address.  Alternatively to book an appointment with Ali, please contact the York Clinic on 01904 709688 or email York Clinic at email@yorkclinic.com .

References:

(1) “It affects millions, buy many are too embarrassed to seek help…When just sitting down can leave women in agony.”Daily Mail, Good Health, Tuesday October 23rd, 2018

(2) Harlow BL and Stewart EJ (2003) A population based assessment of chronic unexplained vulvar pain: have we underestimated the prevalence of vulvodynia? J Am Meds Women Assoc 58:82

(3) Schlaeger et al (2015) Acupuncture for the treatment of vulvodynia: a randomised wait list controlled pilot study. J Sex Med 12:1019-1027

(4) Curran et al (2010) The ACTIV study: acupuncture treatment in provoked vestibulodynia. J Sex Med 7:981-995

(5) Danielsson et al (2001) Acupuncture for the treatment of vulvar vestibulitis: a pilot study.

(6) Powell & Wojnarowska (1999) Acupuncture for vulvodynia