A conceptual model for managing sexual pain with somatocognitive therapy in women with provoked vestibulodynia and implications for physiotherapy practice

Physiother Theory Pract. 2022 Jul 10;1-14. doi: 10.1080/09593985.2022.2096516. Online ahead of print.


Somatocognitive therapy is a multimodal physiotherapy treatment developed in the early 2000s to alleviate the burden of chronic pelvic pain. In recent years, somatocognitive therapy has been further developed to treat women with provoked vestibulodynia. This prevalent gynecological pain condition is a subgroup of chronic pelvic pain and the most common form of vulvodynia. Provoked vestibulodynia is a neglected multifactorial pain condition of unknown cause, adversely affecting women's sexual life, relation to their partners and their psychological health. Pain is located at the vulvar vestibule and is provoked by touch or pressure such as sexual intercourse. In the management of sexual pain, somatocognitive therapy combines bodily exploration, pain education, cognitive coping strategies and structured homework to improve sexual function and reduce pain. To support these processes, developing a sound therapeutic alliance with the patient is essential. The aim of this article is to provide a conceptual model for managing provoked vestibulodynia with somatocognitive therapy, including a theoretical rational for this treatment. We base our conceptual model on the biopsychosocial model, i.e., considering the complex interplay of biomedical, emotional/cognitive, psychosexual and interpersonal factors in provoked vestibulodynia management. In addition, implications for practice and a detailed description of somatocognitive therapy for provoked vestibulodynia will be provided, to allow replication in clinical practice and in clinical trials.

Keywords: Provoked vestibulodynia; multimodal physiotherapy; sexual pain; somatocognitive therapy; vulvodynia.