Continuing our Education: Vestibulodynia, Vulvar Pain, and Beyond


Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

In a blog a few posts back, we covered some of our new skills we developed with our friends, Kelli Wilson PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, and Sara Sauder PT, DPT in addressing issues of the male pelvic floor. In this post, we will cover the new techniques and latest information we learned in issues concerning pelvic floor dysfunction in individuals of the female anatomy.

As experienced and expert physical therapists, we are all extremely comfortable with treating disorders of the pelvic floor, but the thing is, there is so much new information coming out, that even if your latest training was two years ago, chances are, there is a lot of new information out there to discover, which can really help your patients.

One of the most interesting things we learned about was in regards to hormonally mediated vestibulodynia and vulvar atrophy. Although many of us know how to spot these conditions, learning about the specific mechanism that causes them in cases of long term birth control use was fascinating. Long term birth control use can actually suppress the production of estradiol and testosterone from the ovaries and cause the liver to increase levels of sex binding hormone globulin, which takes even more of these hormones out of circulation. When this happens, the vulvar tissue can shrink, become thin, and friable (tear easily). This can cause burning and pain. It is important for PT’s to be able to screen for this condition so we may refer our patients to MDs who can get them on a different method of birth control or prescribe them topical treatments as needed.

We also learned more about conditions such as interstitial cystitis, lichens planus and sclerosis, pelvic congestion, vaginal adhesions, as well as other current medical treatments that are now available for our patients who are in pain.

All in all, it was a great course and we look forward to bringing our new knowledge to our patients to help them be more successful in our physical therapy treatments.

For most of last year, myself, Sara, and Amy worked together to contribute a chapter to the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health latest textbook on female pelvic pain which will be available soon on Amazon, and is an essential tool for practitioners treating pelvic and sexual pain from both a medical, mental health and physical therapy perspective. Check out the following excerpts from our chapter detailing treatment of pelvic pain here:

On who is an appropriate candidate for physical therapy:

“Ideal candidates for pelvic floor physical therapy referral are patients with pelvic floor musculoskeletal dysfunction or those who have been treated by clinicians for pelvic pathology but have not experienced symptom resolution. Clinicians can identify appropriate patients by palpating the vulva, performing a digital examination of thevaginal and rectal muscles, and performing a moist cotton swab test on the vestibule. If the patient reports reproduction of any of her sexual or pelvic pain symptoms with this examination, she is likely affected by pelvic floor dysfunction”

On what pelvic floor physical therapy is:

“Physical therapy intervention for the dysfunctional pelvic floor incorporates a comprehensive approach addressing specific tissue characteristics, strength, alignment, and neuromuscular control. Manual therapy is a hands‐on approach to correct tissue restrictions, improve alignment, and enhance blood flow. Different manual techniques may be used to achieve different objectives.”

Check out the full text: Musculoskeletal Management of Pelvic and Sexual Pain Disorders available here.



Pukall C, Goldstein A, Bergeron S, et al. Vulvodynia: definition, prevalence, impact, and pathophysiological factors. J Sex Med. 2016; 13(3): 291-304

Burrows L. Basha M. Goldstein A., et al. The effects of hormonal contraceptives on female sexuality: a review. J Sex Med. 2012;9 (9) 2213-23

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