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    Vaginal Tears: Common Causes and Effective Treatment

    Updated 14 April 2020 |
    Published 14 October 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
    Flo Fact-Checking Standards

    Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

    If you’re concerned about experiencing a vaginal tear at birth, you’re not alone. This fairly common injury during labor is a concern for many pregnant people. Read on to learn more about what causes vaginal tears and the best ways to prevent and treat them.

    What are vaginal tears?

    Vaginal tears, also called vaginal lacerations, are wounds in the vaginal tissue. They can occur throughout the vagina. Tears in the vagina, labia, and perineum are all possible. The perineum is the tissue between anus and vaginal opening. There are different types of perineal tears that range in severity from first- to fourth-degree. 

    First-degree tears only affect the skin, while second-degree tears reach into the muscle. Third-degree tears go deeper, extending all the way into the anal sphincter. The anal sphincter is the muscle that helps you hold in and release stool. Third-degree tears are subdivided into three categories depending on whether only the external or both the external and internal anal sphincter is torn. In a fourth-degree tear, the rectal mucosa is torn as well.

    What causes vaginal tears?

    Vaginal tears can occur during birth, and when they do, they’re called obstetric tears. Tears can happen at other times, too. Penetrative sex is the most common cause of non-obstetric vaginal tearing. Virginity, atrophic vagina, congenital abnormalities, scarring or stenosis from surgery, insertion of foreign bodies, and sexual assault all increase the likelihood of tearing during intercourse. 

    Obstetric tears occur during labor when the presentation of the baby stretches the tissues of the vagina and perineum. If the tissues are overstretched, they tear. This is more likely to happen during a first vaginal delivery. It’s also more likely if the baby weighs more than 9 pounds. Forcep- or vacuum-assisted delivery and long second stage of labor also increase the risk of tearing. Complications of labor such as shoulder dystocia (when the baby’s shoulders get stuck) can result in third- or fourth-degree tears. 

    How common are vaginal tears during birth?

    During birth, vaginal tears are very common. Most deliveries cause some degree of tearing, though severe tears are quite rare. 

    Fortunately, most of these tears do not lead to adverse functional outcomes.

    According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 53–79 percent of vaginal deliveries will cause some degree of perineal trauma. Fortunately, most of these tears do not lead to adverse functional outcomes. Third- or fourth-degree tears only occur in about 3 percent of first vaginal deliveries and 0.8 percent of subsequent deliveries.

    What are the complications of vaginal tears?

    The main complications of tears are pain, bleeding and infection. Third- or fourth-degree tears, although less frequent, are commonly associated with increased risk of fecal and urinary incontinence, pain, and sexual dysfunction associated with these symptoms that can persist long after giving birth. Infections aren’t common with proper treatment, but they can still occur. Smelly stitches or a fever may be signs that a tear is infected. 

    Severe tears that affect the anal sphincters may interfere with bowel control. Studies have shown that this happens with 7.6–61 percent of these severe tears. Some symptoms of poor bowel control include leaking stool or not being able to hold in gas.

    Treatment for vaginal tears

    Perineum tear treatment isn’t always necessary. Because the vaginal area has a good blood supply, the tissues in this area heal well, and minor tears may require no treatment. For more severe tears, you may need stitches or surgical repair of the tear.

    First-degree tears, which only involve the skin, don’t usually need treatment. With these types of tears, you may only need treatment if the wound gets infected. 

    Perineum tear treatment isn’t always necessary. Because the vaginal area has a good blood supply, the tissues in this area heal well, and minor tears may require no treatment.

    More severe tears may require treatment. Second-degree tears, which involve both the skin and the muscles underneath, often need to be stitched up. Third- and fourth-degree tears will require surgical treatment, which will repair the muscles between the vagina and anus.

    After a vaginal tear, some home remedies may help you remain comfortable or heal more quickly. Applying an ice pack to the sore area can help control sweating. Kegel exercises can help boost circulation in the area, which may speed healing. Warm soaks or sitz baths can also help relieve discomfort. Proper