Judy Bowen-Jones

Vulval Pain (Vulvodynia) – Acupuncture Research

Do you suffer from vaginal pain or pain during sex? Acupuncture may help

It is estimated that 1 in 6 women in the UK suffer from vulvodynia for at least three months in their lives and for some, this distressing condition can become chronic.

Vulvodynia is a persistent unexplained pain in the skin surrounding the entrance to the vagina (the vulva). The pain may be stinging or burning and triggered by touch, during sex or when inserting a tampon. The pain is often constantly there in the background but may be worsened when sitting or wearing tight clothes. The pain may spread to the buttocks or thighs.

The cause of vulvodynia is unknown. It is thought that it may be due to nerve damage. Possible triggers include severe thrush infections, a drop in hormone levels due to the menopause, surgery or childbirth. It can affect women of all ages, even if you are very healthy.

Vulvodynia may also be associated with painful periods, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), interstitial cystitis (a painful bladder condition) and vaginismus (a condition where vaginal muscles spasm and tighten involuntarily).

Patients report that vulvodynia symptoms tend to worsen with stress.

Vulvodynia – Acupuncture Research

In 12 patients receiving acupuncture weekly for 5 weeks, 2/12 declared themselves ‘cured’, 3/12 believed their symptoms had improved and wished to continue acupuncture.4/12 felt slightly better and judged acupuncture more effective than any other treatment; 3/12 noted no change in symptoms (1).

Researchers in Sweden conducted a study of 13 young patients. They were each given 10 acupuncture treatments 1-2 times/week. They found that the patients tolerated the treatment well and that acupuncture had a significant impact on the subjects’ quality of life, including pain scores, for several months after being treated (2).

In a more comprehensive study of 36 women, 18 women were given acupuncture and their symptom scores compared with a comparable control group of 18 women, the acupuncture group were given acupuncture two times per week for a total of 10 sessions. Reports of vulvar pain and pain during sex were significantly reduced in the group of women receiving acupuncture (3).

Self-help Tips if you Suffer from Vulvar Pain – Vulvodynia

  • Try to reduce stress
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting skirts or trousers
  • Don’t use tampons, use organic cotton sanitary towels
  • Avoid scented hygiene products, feminine wipes, bubble bath and soaps
  • The NHS recommends: Try not to avoid sex or touching your vulva completely, as this can make your vulva more sensitive. If sex is painful try to find a position that is more comfortable or engage in other sexually intimate activities together when your vulvodynia is particularly painful


Judy Bowen-Jones: “Acupuncture can be very helpful for the treatment of stress and many painful conditions. Vulvodynia is a particularly distressing condition. Reducing your stress levels can help reduce vulval pain and associated symptoms. If you have vaginal pain or sex during intercourse, it’s important to seek medical advice.”


  1. Powell J, Wojnarowska F. Acupuncture for Vulvodynia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1999:92:579-81.
  2. Devitt M. Acupuncture for Vulvar Vestibulitis. Acupuncture Today July 2001: Vol 2: Issue 07.
  3. Schlaeger J et al. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Vulvodynia: A Randomized Wait-List Controlled Pilot Study.
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vulvodynia/