Physiotherapy for pelvic pain and female sexual dysfunction: an untapped resource

Int Urogynecol J. 2018 May;29(5):631-638. doi: 10.1007/s00192-017-3536-8. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


Introduction and hypothesis: Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) in women is a complex syndrome. Pain sensation and intensity often do not correspond with the identified lesion location but are felt elsewhere, leading to muskuloskeletal and myofascial disorders and sexual dysfunction (SD). Although physical aspects are prevalent, they are often underdiagnosed and undertreated due to lack of understanding regarding its origin and distribution. Frequently, patients experience pelvic pain as psychological distress resulting in physical complaints, leading clinicians to prescribe medication or surgical intervention to correct or alleviate these symptoms, often with insufficient results. Because pelvic floor muscle disorders contribute significantly to CPP and SD, there is rationale for physiotherapy. However, physiotherapy is a widely underused and untapped resource, which has its place in the multidisciplinary approach to these health problems.

Methods: Computer-aided and manual searches and methodological quality assessment were carried out for meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published between 1990 and 2017 investigating classification, assessment, and (physiotherapeutic) treatment of pelvic pain and/or female SD defined by the keywords below. Expert opinions were sought via interviews.

Results: Due to a lack of sufficient relevant medical information, referral data, and test results, focused physiotherapy is difficult to administer adequately. However, recent quality studies indicate significant clinical effects of physiotherapy for CPP and female SD, and experts advocate a multidisciplinary approach that includes physiotherapy.

Conclusions: Because of its holistic approach, physiotherapy can contribute significantly to the multidisciplinary assessment and treatment of CPP and female SD.

Keywords: Chronic pelvic pain; Dyspareunia; Multidisciplinary; Physiotherapy; Sensitization; Sexual dysfunction; Vaginism; Vestibulodynia; Vulvodynia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pelvic Floor / physiopathology
  • Pelvic Pain / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vulvodynia / therapy*