Effect of Acupuncture on Patient Vulvodynia Outcomes

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    University of Illinois at Chicago
Updated on 4 March 2022
generalized vulvodynia


This study evaluates acupuncture for the treatment of vulvodynia; specifically if it reduces vulvar pain and pain with intercourse. It also examines how long the effect of acupuncture lasts in women with vulvodynia. Half of the women will receive acupuncture and the other half will receive placebo acupuncture. Women who get a reduction in pain will monitor there pain once a week for up to 12 weeks to see how long the acupuncture effect lasts.


The investigators' goal is to demonstrate the effects of acupuncture for the treatment of vulvodynia. Up to 14 million American women have vulvodynia, a debilitating pain syndrome characterized by pain (burning, irritation, stinging or rawness) in the vulva and dyspareunia that renders sexual intercourse virtually impossible and leaves these women desperate for relief. Not only are women in pain, but they often lose their partners or have relationship difficulties due to their inability to have sexual intercourse. No therapies have been proven efficacious and rapid pain relief is unpredictable and rarely possible. After exhausting Western Medicine options, these women often turn to acupuncture. But in contrast to other pain conditions, there have been no acupuncture sham control studies of vulvodynia.

Only four studies, including one of the investigators', provide some evidence of the effect of acupuncture on vulvodynia. In three, single-group acupuncture studies, women had less pain, better quality of life, improved sexual health, and improved mental health. The investigators' randomized wait-list controlled pilot study of 36 women with vulvodynia showed great promise. The investigators found a statistically significant and clinically meaningful reduction in vulvar pain and dyspareunia, and an increase in overall sexual function after a 5-week, 13-needle, 10 session acupuncture protocol. This newly developed, standardized acupuncture treatment protocol is the first breakthrough in the treatment of this puzzling disorder. It includes acupuncture points that relieve pain in the genitals. The results of the investigators' initial pilot study provided the first evidence from a two-group design that the acupuncture protocol could reduce pain intensity, pain during intercourse, and increase overall sexual function. These findings, however, warrant stronger evidence to support the inference that the effect is indeed due to the acupuncture since ours or no other study included a sham control or provided follow-up data beyond immediate posttest, which means that the duration of the acupuncture effect is unknown. The investigators' recent feasibility study paves the way to overcome this gap by use of double-blind acupuncture needles. Findings from these two studies support the investigators' proposal for the world's first double-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT) of acupuncture for vulvodynia while exploring its duration of effect.

The investigators propose a phase 2 double-blind, pretest/posttest RCT to compare effects of penetrating needles or the skin touch placebo needles on vulvar pain in our 13-needle, 10-session acupuncture treatment protocol. A sample of 130 women, with a diagnosis of vulvodynia, either generalized or provoked vestibulodynia, 18 to 45 years of age will be recruited from clinical and community settings and 80 subjects are expected to complete the study. Stratified by type of vulvodynia, participants will be randomized 1:1 either to the penetrating needle group or the skin touch placebo needle group. These double-blind needles will provide a strong sham procedure to mask both the acupuncturist and subject to the type of needle used for the 10-treatment protocol.

Specific aims are to:

Aim 1. Compare the penetrating needle group and the skin touch placebo needle group for effects on the: (a) primary outcome: vulvar pain (PAINReportIt average pain intensity, 0-10), and (b) secondary outcomes: dyspareunia (FSFI dyspareunia) and sexual function (FSFI total). The investigators hypothesize that controlling for baseline values, at posttest there will be statistically significant less vulvar pain (primary) and dyspareunia and better sexual function in the penetrating needle group compared to the skin touch placebo group.

Aim 2. In participants with a clinically meaningful reduction in pain intensity (at least 1.5 points) at posttest compared to pretest, describe the duration of the acupuncture treatment and placebo effects weekly until pain returns to pretest or up to 12 weeks after posttest. The investigators will describe the variability over time in vulvar pain intensity (0-10) after a tampon insertion-removal stimulus and thereby explore the duration of the effect by intervention group, vulvodynia subgroups, and demographic subgroups (e.g., age, race, occupation). These findings will provide insights to guide future research on initial and maintenance acupuncture for vulvodynia.

Condition Vulvodynia, Vulvodynia, Generalized, Vulvar Vestibulitis
Treatment Placebo Acupuncture, Active Acupuncture
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03364127
SponsorUniversity of Illinois at Chicago
Last Modified on4 March 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

a previous diagnosis of generalized vulvodynia or provoked vestibulodynia
18 to 45 years old
a pain now score 4 or higher with tampon insertion and removal performed at the initial screening exam
speak and read English
Exclusionary Criteria
infectious conditions of the vulva/vagina
inflammatory conditions of the vulva/vagina
neoplastic disorders of the vulva/vagina
neurologic disorders of the vulva/vagina
trauma to the genitals
iatrogenic conditions of the genitals
hormonal deficiencies
co-morbid pelvic pain conditions (to avoid confounding pain outcomes) such as pelvic inflammatory disease and documented history of endometriosis
Patients may have a history of but not have active in the last 6 months
migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ), irritable bowel
syndrome (IBS), interstitial cystitis, painful bladder syndrome, or
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