Acupuncture for the Treatment of Vulvodynia

Hello, my name is Judy Schlaeger. I’m an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing. I’m a certified nurse midwife, a licensed acupuncturist, a Chinese herbalist, and a pain researcher. About halfway into my career, I noticed that women had a lot of health problems that were not adequately addressed with Western medicine. Usually the problems were chronic in nature like asthma, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, and especially chronic pain. Western medicine was prescribing treatments that were sometimes effective and many times were not. Women were also being prescribed addictive opioids. That was my impetus for studying acupuncture in Chinese medicine. In fact I went on to get my PhD in Chinese medicine when I realized that women were having gynecologic problems that could not adequately be treated with Western medicine.

As a midwife and in my acupuncture practice, I saw women with a mysterious health condition with debilitating symptoms of vulvar burning, vulvar pain, and pain with sexual intercourse. There was little understanding of this condition. Health care providers didn’t know how to diagnose patients or treat them. Women were, and still are, often misdiagnosed and given a myriad of treatments for infections like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomonas, that they sometimes do not have. So I’ve dedicated my career to finding a non-opioid treatment for the stubborn pain syndrome. To provide relief to women who suffer with the devastating pain—as I know this is vulvodynia. Vulvodynia is a condition where women have vulvar burning, vulvar pain, and pain with intercourse. It affects seven million American women. It lasts at least three months in duration and there is no consistently effective treatment for this disabling pain syndrome.

I knew I could treat vulvodynia with acupuncture because acupuncture uses a different treatment paradigm. So in 2015, I developed an acupuncture protocol for a pilot study treating vulvodynia with acupuncture. In this pilot study, we found that women had a significant reduction in vulvar pain, and pain with intercourse, and they had an increase in overall sexual function. Because women were helped in our pilot study, the National Institutes of Health through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has given me a grant for two million dollars, over five years to continue studying this vexing chronic pain syndrome where there is no known consistently effective treatment.

I am devoted to finding a treatment—a non-opioid, non-invasive treatment—for vulvodynia and our preliminary findings show great promise. We’re getting there. This study is being performed at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing. Women will have acupuncture twice a week for five weeks, for a total of ten sessions. They will also fill out a pain diary at home. If you would like to participate, contact us. Or if someone you care about may be suffering from vulvodynia, please share this video. Thank you. .