Mucosal versus muscle pain sensitivity in provoked vestibulodynia

Kathryn Witzeman, Ruby H.N. Nguyen, Alisa Eanes, Sawsan As-Sanie, Denniz Zolnoun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: An estimated 8.3%-16% of women experience vulvovaginal discomfort during their lifetime. Frequently these patients report provoked pain on contact or with attempted intercourse, commonly referred to as provoked vestibulodynia (PVD). Despite the burden of this condition, little is known about its potential etiologies including pelvic floor muscular dysfunction and mucosal components. This knowledge would be beneficial in developing targeted therapies including physical therapy. Objective: To explore the relative contribution of mucosal versus muscle pain sensitivity on pain report from intercourse among women with PVD. Design: In this proof of concept study, 54 women with PVD underwent a structured examination assessing mucosal and pelvic muscle sensitivity. Methods: We examined three mucosal sites in the upper and lower vestibule. Patients were asked to rate their pain on cotton swab palpation of the mucosa using a 10-point visual analog scale. Muscle pain was assessed using transvaginal application of pressure on right and left puborectalis, and the perineal muscle complex. The Gracely pain scale (0-100) was used to assess the severity of pain with intercourse, with women rating the lowest, average, and highest pain levels; a 100 rating the highest level of pain. Results: The lower vestibule’s mucosa 5.81 (standard deviation =2.83) was significantly more sensitive than the upper vestibule 2.52 (standard deviation =2.6) (P<0.01) on exam. However, mucosal sensitivity was not associated with intercourse pain, while muscle sensitivity was moderately associated with both average and highest intensity of intercourse pain (r=-0.46, P=0.01 and r=-0.42, P=0.02), respectively. Conclusion: This preliminary study suggests that mucosal measures alone may not sufficiently capture the spectrum of clinical pain report in women with PVD, which is consistent with the empirical success of physical therapy in this population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)549-555
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pain Research
StatePublished - Aug 12 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Witzeman et al.


  • Dyspareunia
  • Pain sensitivity
  • Pelvic floor muscle pain
  • Pressure pain threshold
  • Provoked vestibulodynia
  • Vulvar pain
  • Vulvodynia


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