How To Naturally Quiet the #1 Cause of Penetration/Entrance Pain (In Reproductive Aged Women)
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Take a look at these personal care tips from Dr. Echenberg. Triggers that increase your pain sensitivity could be hiding in your self-care routine.
1. CHANGE YOUR PAD OFTEN
Because the pH balance of the vagina changes during your period, you can be more susceptible to vaginal infections during this time. In addition, damp pads and blood can cause irritation and also open the door for infection. As a preventative, change your pad every two hours. Be careful of tampon use as they soak in far more irritating fluids than pads and the insertion of tampons alone can cause pain to the already inflamed and sensitive genital tissues. Be sure to use menstrual products that are free of perfumes and any harsh ingredients. We recommend: Natracare
2. USE UNSCENTED LAUNDRY PRODUCTS
Perfumed laundry soap, fabric softener, and scented dryer sheets can inflame the genital area. Look for versions of your favorite products that are unscented and free and clear of dyes. Many store brands even have a free and clear version of these products. It also might be worth considering alternatives like wool dryer balls and DIY recipes so you know exactly what's inside.
3. WASH YOUR VAGINAL AREA WITH WATER ONLY
That's right! It might sound strange but the external genitalia doesn't need any more than water. Soap can upset the sensitive balance of the vaginal flora and increase symptoms. If you feel like water just isn't enough you can try unscented soaps. But be aware that it's possible to have a sensitivity to glycerin (the main ingredient in many unscented soaps) so take note of any irritation. There are glycerin-free alternatives but pay close attention to their other ingredients.
4. BEND OVER TO RINSE OUT SHAMPOO
When you rinse your hair in the shower be sure to bend over in a way that shampoo can't run down over your vulvar area. Chemical ingredients, perfumes, and dyes can cause an adverse reaction when coming in contact with your genitals.
5. WIPE THE RECTAL AREA PROPERLY
Vaginal infections can be caused by bacteria from the rectum. Always wipe from front to back and change your underwear when possible after a bowel movement as bacteria can remain on the underwear.
A summary of the Commentary by Melissa A. Farmer “What is special about the vulvar vestibule?” Copyright 2015 by the International Association for the Study of Pain, March 2015, Volume 156, Number 3
If you were to take a mirror and take a look at the opening of your external genitalia, you would be looking at your vulvar vestibule. The vulvar vestibule (or “entrance way” to the vagina) includes from the clitoris to the urethral opening (for urinating) to the vaginal opening as well as portions of the inner lips on either side of the vaginal opening. Many incorrectly refer to the whole area as “the vagina”. Actually the skin of the vestibule lies between the vaginal lining and the outside hair bearing skin. If you need a little help on vocab and anatomy - check out this blog.
It is also really important to realize that the most common reason for entrance pain with intercourse, tampon use, vaginal speculum or just light touch from clothing is the common condition known as vulvar vestibulitis or better called vulvar vestibulodynia. (“itis” means inflammation and “dynia” means pain).
So back to looking in the mirror. You’ve probably never whispered “you’re special” to your vulvar vestibule. But it is. Not just for its role in the reproduction of life, but because the external tissues in that area are actually very different from other mucosal surfaces in the body. Mucosal surfaces are those bodily tissues that excrete mucus like the inside of your mouth and the inside of your nose. The difference is in the “profile” of the immune cells in that area, meaning the type and the amount of the cells of the immune system. Given how important the external genitalia is to the reproduction of life, we would suspect that it would indeed be a place that needs some extra immune system defense. This same observation holds true for other species as well, not just humans.
We also know that one of the methods the immune system uses to attack what it identifies as a threat to the system is inflammation. And as a result of inflammation we often feel pain. It makes sense then that pain brought on by inflammation at the vulvar vestibule would be different than the pain brought on by inflammation at other mucosal sites. Recent research seems to indicate that pain felt in this area is determined by 1) the amount (not simply the presence alone) of low grade inflammation, 2) altered vulvar nerve innervations, meaning an abnormality in the distribution of impulses of the nerves in that area, and 3) genetic susceptibilities that contribute to abnormal inflammatory cascades (chemical messengers that ramp up the immune system and cause a domino effect).
Vagina! (You are definitely more complicated than we thought!!!)
Just making sure you’re still with me here, this information is dense but it’s how we know persistent genital, sexual, and pelvic pain has a MEDICAL and SCIENTIFIC explanation.
Ok, back to the mirror. We know that the vulvar vestibule is derived (or made from) the endoderm. When we were just embryos in the womb, the inner-most layer of that embryo is called the endoderm. Do you know what else was derived from the endoderm? The bladder and urethra and also the gastrointestinal tract. It is possible that these other structures also have unique immune profiles, similar to that of the vulvar vestibule.
Let’s briefly recap: The vulvar vestibule has a unique immune profile compared with that of other mucosal sites. An immune/inflammation response at the vulvar vestibule isn’t enough to cause pain. Pain is determined by the magnitude of the immune response/inflammation. The vulvar vestibule, the bladder, and urethral linings are all derived from the endoderm and could share immune profiles.
One last piece of information that’s critical to note: the most recent research is finding that in the clinical setting, self-reported pain levels at the vulvar vestibule are closely connected with the release of an immune system messenger known as cytokine. That means when research study participants reported increased pain, the presence of cytokines in the examined vulvar tissue also increased.
What does all of this really mean? It means that we know that chronic genital, sexual, and pelvic pain is real in a clinical and biological sense. We of course recommend treatment modalities that work from the top-down to address the mind-body connection and help turn the central nervous system pain ‘volume dial’ down. But we also want to highlight the science behind the pain and the need for bottom-up approaches in line with current research and the desperate need for earlier diagnosis and appropriate treatment modalities and medications to counter these inflammatory and painful processes.
2. Interstitial Cystitis (IC)
Unlike the kind of cystitis that can be treated with antibiotics, IC is a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall. Some of the symptoms are an urge to urinate frequently, stinging the area surrounding the urethra, increased nighttime voiding (urinating), and a variety of pelvic and sexual pain symptoms.
3. Irritable Bowel (IBS)
Constipation and/or diarrhea are symptoms of this syndrome. Some women find that IBS flare ups correlate to an increase in vaginal irritation. Therefore foods that aggravate the bowel may also cause vaginal symptoms.
4. Lichen Sclerosis
This is an inflammatory chronic skin condition most common in the external genital area. Symptoms may range from none (for years) to mild or severe itching and irritation. Lichen Sclerosis does appear to be relatively prevalent in women with vulvodynia and sexual pain disorders. It can cause splitting and "paper cut" type tears in the region around the vaginal opening.
5. Myofascial Pain Syndrome
Myofascia are the muscles and connective tissue in the body. When in spasm, knots and "trigger points" develop that need to be released to eliminate pain and restore function. These trigger points in the pelvic myofascia can cause sexual pain.
6. Pelvic Endometriosis
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells, normally found only in the uterus, become imbedded in locations outside the uterus. These locations are usually within the pelvic cavity on reproductive organs, supportive ligaments, or structural systems like the bladder or bowel.
This misplaced tissue forms growths that look like dark spots. These growths respond to the menstrual cycle and break down and bleed each month, the same way the lining of the uterus does. This causes cyclical pain and inflammation - called dysmenorrhea. Additionally, the body’s immune response to this internal bleeding and breakdown of blood and tissues begins to cause scar tissue and adhesions (affected pelvic organs or structures adhering to one another) which can also cause ongoing pain.
Endometriosis affects millions of women but is often over diagnosed as the primary cause of pelvic and sexual pain. If the pain or deep sexual discomfort is intermittent and all month long, even though it may become worse leading up to the menstrual period, endometriosis may not be the primary reason for the pain. If you have been diagnosed and treated for endometriosis and you don't begin to get signifiant improvement either after medication or surgical treatment, insist on further evaluation for bladder, bowel, musculoskeletal, or nerve related causes of your pain.
7. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
The pelvic floor encompasses all the muscles that surround and support the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder, and lower bowel). To function appropriately, these muscles must be toned. However, elevated tone in the pelvic floor muscles, making them too tight, tense, and "turned on" can result in painful sex and difficulty with bladder and bowel function. On the other hand, too little tone can lead to bladder and bowel incontinence (leakage) or prolapse (falling down, out of normal position). Pelvic floor dysfunction can refer to either too much or too little tone.
8. Previous life-long Pelvic Trauma
Events such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, surgeries, accidental injuries, and cumulative aggravating structural factors can play a role in sexual pain. Additional possibilities include years of various sports activities such as gymnastics, cheerleading, track & field, soccer, ballet dancing, horseback riding, skating, etc. More and more women have engaged heavily and competitively in these sports over the past few decades, making them extremely vulnerable to these types of bodily stresses. The nervous system bio-chemically "imprints" and "remembers" these accumulated traumas, and any or all of these may predispose a young woman to sexual and pelvic pain disorders even years later.
9. Generalized Vulvodynia
Generalized vulvodynia is a subset of vulvodynia, it is less common than vulvar vestibulodynia (see below) and often very difficult to successfully treat. It is a deeper, more generalized pain. Pain can occur spontaneously (unprovoked) or in response to touch or pressure (provoked, such as by intercourse). Pain emanating from the pudendal nerve and its distribution may be a significant contributor to this condition in some cases (pudendal neuralgia).
10. Vulvar Vestibulodynia (Vestibulitis)
This condition causes pain and inflammation at the vaginal opening. Women describe the pain as burning, itching, raw, sandpaper, ground glass, and stinging. It is commonly mistaken for vaginal yeast infections and is often treated incorrectly. Vestibulitis is the most common reason for entrance pain (painful sex) in reproductive-aged women.
1. Be Cautious About Routine Exercises You May Already Be Doing
The pelvic region has many more joints, muscles, and ligaments than you may imagine. Some exercise practices such as the use of stationary bicycles and stair climbers, may otherwise be healthy for you, but if you experience sexual and pelvic pain these types of exercises might cause extra stress and spasm.
2. Seats and Clothing
3. Give Up the Attitude of "Playing Through the Pain"
4. See a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
Myth #1: Kegels Cure Vaginismus
Myth #2: Vaginal Dilators are Used to 'Stretch' the Muscles
Myth #3: You Just Have to Try to Relax and Keep Practicing Sex
Stephanie Yeager: Passionate about spreading the word of hope and healing for those like her, influencing a paradigm shift in the medical community toward greater understanding of chronic pelvic pain disorders, and prevention initiatives that may protect young women before onset can occur.
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