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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter August 14, 2019

Somatocognitive therapy of women with provoked vulvodynia: a pilot study

Gro Killi Haugstad, Slawomir Wojniusz, Rolf Kirschner, Unni Kirste, Ingvild Lilleheie and Tor S. Haugstad


Background and aims

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is a common persistent pain state among women in the Western world, causing dyspareunia, psychological distress and challenges against fertility. Therapies aimed at relieving pain (physiotherapy) and psychological distress (psychotherapy) are often recommended, sometimes in multimodal combinations. We have previously developed somatocognitive therapy (SCT) as a multimodal intervention, administered by a physiotherapist, to a different group of patients with gynecological pain, i.e. chronic (unprovoked) pelvic pain (CPP, also referred to as low abdominal pain). In a randomized, controlled study this intervention was shown to reduce pain experience and improve motor function or body awareness. Here we present the results of a clinical follow-up pilot study with 30 women with PVD, applying SCT administered by third year bachelor students in physiotherapy. Main outcome was pain experience, secondary outcomes were psychological distress and motor functions of the patients.


Thirty women diagnosed with PVD were recruited from a tertiary university hospital clinic of gynecology, and included in the follow-up pilot study at an out-patient physiotherapy clinic. Each patient participated in 10–14 therapy sessions over 6 weeks. The students were supervised by an experienced physiotherapist with extensive background in this clinical area, who also performed two clinical sessions with each of the patients at the end of the treatment period. Before therapy, the patients were evaluated for pain experience (visual analogue scale of pain, VAS), psychological distress (Tampa scale of kinesiophobia, TSK) and General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-30) as well as body function (standardized Mensendieck test, SMT). Statistical analyzes were performed by using the average ± standard deviation, statistical significance of changes calculated by means of the t-test.


Average pain score before therapy were 7.77 ± 1.98, after 6 weeks of intervention 4.17 ± 2.07 and at 6 months’ follow-up 1.66 ± 1.08 (average ± standard deviation), changes being significant below p < 0.01 level. Secondary outcome variables assessing psychological distress and sub optimal motor patterns were also significantly improved. For example, anxiety and depression scores were reduced by approximately 40%, and respiration pattern score improved by almost 80%.


Multimodal somatocognitive therapy reduced levels of pain and psychological distress, and improved motor functions in women with PVD after 6 weeks of interventions. All variables were further improved at 6 months’ follow-up. Thus, somatocognitive therapy may be a useful treatment option for patients with PVD. However, there are limitations to this study, since there was no control group, and suboptimal blinding during assessment of the data.


Somatocognitive therapy may be a useful tool when treating PVD patients. More studies, in particular RCTs, should be performed to further evaluate this intervention and corroborate the results from this pilot study.

Corresponding author: Gro Killi Haugstad, MSH, PhD, Department of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Pilestredet 44, Oslo, Norway, Phone: (+47) 48066595

  1. Authors’ statements

  2. Research funding: None.

  3. Conflict of interest: Authors state no conflict of interest.

  4. Informed consent: Informed consent was obtained from all individuals included in this study.

  5. Ethical approval: The research related to human use complies with all the relevant national regulations, institutional policies and was performed in accordance with the tenets of the Helsinki Declaration. The Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics North approved the study. The study was approved by the Norwegian Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research (2010-15/1546).


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Received: 2019-01-14
Revised: 2019-04-08
Accepted: 2019-04-15
Published Online: 2019-08-14
Published in Print: 2019-10-25

©2019 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. All rights reserved.

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