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International Women’s Month: Rebalance’s Guide to the Pelvic Floor and your Vagina

International Women’s Day is March 8. There are many ways to celebrate this holiday. One of the ways that we support International Women’s Day every day at Rebalance, is creating greater awareness of pelvic pain conditions that effect women’s pelvic organs.

More and more is being understood and circulated as common knowledge about women’s pelvic health and wellness. However, many women still don’t know what certain pain can indicate or the range of conditions they can experience.

Women’s Sexual Health: Breaking Down the Three V’s

If you follow our blog, you probably know that there are many ways that pelvic floor dysfunction can present. It can show up as many different conditions, such as urinary frequency, incontinence, pain with sex or prolapse.

There are three conditions that often get blurred together: Vaginismus, Vulvodynia and Vestibulodynia.

What is Vulvodynia?

Vulvadynia is basically any type of symptom that involves pain swelling, irritation, burning, ashiness, pain that is located in the vulvar region. The Vulvar is external part of the female genitalia, including the labia majora, labia minora, the clitoris and the opening of the vagina (the vestibule).

Vulvadynia can be triggered by hormonal changes, trauma from birth or surgery, chronic infections and/or the muscles of the pelvic floor. It might show up as discomfort with sitting or pain with intercourse or putting in a tampon. Symptoms might start gradually, seemingly out of nowhere, or they might begin after birth or a traumatic sexual encounter.

If the muscles of the pelvic floor are involved, usually the muscles have become tight and spasmed and, as a result are causing pain. Since the muscles of the pelvic floor line the bowl of the pelvis and surround the opening of the bladder, the vagina and the rectum, tension in these muscles make it difficult for anything to come in or out.

Vulvodynia is a broad term to describe general pain in that area. This means, the symptoms you’re experiencing might move around or be felt across the whole vulvar region.

What is Vestibulodynia?

Vestibulodynia is more specific that Vulvodynia. Basically, Vestibulodynia is irritation and discomfort specifically in the vestibule area of the vulva. The vestibule area is the tissue that surrounds the opening of the vagina.

Usually, the first symptoms of this is discomfort with anything entering the vagina, whether it’s during sex, inserting a tampon or during a gynecology exam. The pain is usually sharp and specific to that area. It might feel like the tissue is raw, dry or irritated.

This can be caused by chronic infections, stress or trauma to this area. The symptoms of Vestibulodynia can be exacerbated by or contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction.

What is Vaginismus?

Vaginismus specifically affects the inside of the vagina and affects a woman’s ability to engage in vaginal penetration. This might show up as pain with sex, pain with inserting a tampon or pain during a gynecological exam. This pain is the result of an involuntary vaginal muscle spasm, which makes any kind of vaginal penetration painful or impossible.

Tight pelvic floor muscles are usually the underlying culprit of vaginismus. Just like Vulvodynia, tight pelvic floor muscles can make it difficult for anything to go in or out of the vagina.

Treatment for Vulvodynia, Vestibulodynia and Vaginismus

All three of these conditions can be connected, so it’s important to understand the differences and connections between all three. Your pelvic floor might either be the cause or contributing to these conditions.

Our understanding of the pelvic floor muscles is still in its infancy. Because of this, sometimes terms such as Vulvodynia, Vestibulodynia and Vaginismus terminology might encompass many different symptoms and many different causes. If you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions, working with a holistic pelvic floor physical therapist might be able to help you find relief. For more, click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation with one of our therapists.

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