Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation as an additional treatment for women suffering from therapy-resistant provoked vestibulodynia: a feasibility study

J Sex Med. 2015 Jan;12(1):228-37. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12740. Epub 2014 Nov 12.


Introduction: The current approach to women with provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) comprises a multidimensional, multidisciplinary therapeutic protocol. As PVD is considered to be a chronic pain disorder, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can be used as an additional therapy for women with otherwise therapy-resistant PVD.

Aims: The aims of this study were to evaluate whether TENS has a beneficial effect on vulvar pain, sexual functioning, and sexually-related personal distress in women with therapy-resistant PVD and to assess the effect of TENS on the need for vestibulectomy.

Methods: A longitudinal prospective follow-up study was performed on women with therapy-resistant PVD who received additional domiciliary TENS. Self-report questionnaires and visual analog scales (VASs) were completed at baseline (T1), post-TENS (T2), and follow-up (T3).

Main outcome measures: Vulvar pain, sexual functioning, and sexually-related personal distress were the main outcome measures.

Results: Thirty-nine women with therapy-resistant PVD were included. Mean age was 27 ± 5.6 years (range: 19 to 41); mean duration between TENS and T3 follow-up was 10.1 ± 10.7 months (range: 2 to 32). Vulvar pain VAS scores directly post-TENS (median 3.4) and at follow-up (median 3.2) were significantly (P < 0.01) lower than at baseline (median 8.0). Post-TENS, sexual functioning scores on the Female Sexual Functioning Index questionnaire had improved significantly (P = 0.2); these scores remained stable at follow-up. Sexually-related personal distress scores had improved significantly post-TENS (P = 0.01). Only 4% of the women who received TENS needed to undergo vestibulectomy vs. 23% in our previous patient population.

Conclusion: The addition of self-administered TENS to multidimensional treatment significantly reduced the level of vulvar pain and the need for vestibulectomy. The long-term effect was stable. These results not only support our hypothesis that TENS constitutes a feasible and beneficial addition to multidimensional treatment for therapy-resistant PVD, but also the notion that PVD can be considered as a chronic pain syndrome.

Keywords: Dyspareunia; Female Sexual Pain Disorders; Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder; Provoked Vestibulodynia; Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS); Vestibulectomy; Vulvar Pain.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vulvodynia / psychology
  • Vulvodynia / therapy*