If you're a young man aged 12 or older who is active in sports or lives an otherwise active life, chances are you know something about getting hit in the balls.
It may not have happened to you yet. But you've probably seen, or at least heard, that taking a hit in the balls -- testicles to be exact -- does more than knock the wind out of you.
Getting hit in the testicles can double you over in pain. It can make you feel sick, even vomit.
And if you're hit hard enough, it can send you to the hospital. Fortunately, most testicle injuries aren't that serious.
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about testicle injuries.
What are the testicles and why does getting hit there hurt so much?
The testicles are part of the male reproductive organ. They make sperm and the male sex hormone called testosterone.
Without testicles, men wouldn't be able to have kids. They'd also look and feel a lot different without testosterone. Testosterone is responsible for many of the male characteristics that make men different from women.
These important organs hang outside the body in a sac called the scrotum. And since they hang outside the body, they don't have bone or muscle around to protect them like other organs do. That means there is nothing to absorb any of the blow if they happen to get hit. So they take the full force of the hit without any cushion.
What does it feel like to get hit in the testicles?
The first symptom is a lot of pain. That may be followed by nausea and sometimes vomiting. Fortunately, the testicles are made of spongy material that typically absorbs the shock without a lot of damage. They are also covered by a tough material that protects the tissue inside.
With a typical injury, the pain and nausea usually ease in about an hour. And with most injuries, there is no damage to the testicles' ability to produce sperm or the ability to have sex.
How common are injuries to the testicles?
Injuries, especially serious injuries, are not that common. But it's important to know they can happen and how to take steps to prevent them. And it's extra important if you regularly take part in activities that can cause these injuries.
Taking part in certain sports such as soccer, basketball, or baseball can put you at risk. So can intense exercise, weight lifting, and other activities that put stress on the groin area. But there are ways to protect the groin area and reduce the risk of a serious injury to your testicles.
When should I see a doctor?
Some injuries can be serious and may even need emergency treatment. See the doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- The injury went through the scrotum.
- Pain doesn't ease up after an hour.
- You continue to feel nauseous or continue to vomit.
- There is bruising or swelling of the scrotum or the scrotum fills with fluid.
- You have difficulty urinating.
- There is blood in your urine.
- You have a fever after an injury to the testicles.
- You notice pain in your testicles without recalling an injury.
If my testicles are injured, say from a knee in the groin while playing basketball, can I treat the injury myself?
If the injury is not serious, you can take these steps:
- Take a painkiller such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help get rid of the pain.
- Use an ice pack on the area -- not directly on the skin -- to help prevent swelling and ease pain.
- Place a rolled-up towel under the testicle when you lie down.
- Take it easy for a few days after an injury.
- Avoid strenuous activity.
- Wear supportive underwear for a few days to gently support the testicle.
Can there be serious complications?
Two of the most serious complications are testicular torsion and testicular rupture.
What is testicular torsion?
Testicular torsion can happen from an injury, like being kicked in the groin, or from strenuous activity. Sometimes it can even happen for no apparent reason.
With torsion, the cords holding the testicles in place can become twisted. This cuts off the blood supply to the testicle. The result is a lot of pain. The testicle also gets bigger, feels tender, and begins to swell.
This is a medical emergency. It should be treated within six hours of when it happens.
Sometimes, the doctor can treat it by untwisting the testicle. Sometimes surgery is needed. If it isn't treated, you could lose the testicle or lose its function.
What is testicular rupture?
Testicular rupture is very rare. It can happen from a direct, forceful blow. It can also be caused by the testicle being pressed against the pelvic bone.
Testicular rupture causes a lot of pain and swelling. It also causes nausea and vomiting. A rupture causes blood to leak into the scrotum. The damage requires surgery to repair.
How can I prevent injury to my testicles?
First, be sure to always wear the proper equipment when playing sports that put you at risk.
- Athletic cups can be worn when playing sports like baseball, football, soccer, hockey, or karate. The cups are made out of hard plastic. They cover the groin area to protect it from injury.
- Athletic supporters, or jockstraps, are made out of cloth. They have a special pouch that holds the testicles close to the body during strenuous exercise, cycling, or heavy lifting.
- Always follow the instructions of your coach about any additional protective gear that you should wear. Don't be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don't understand.
Always be sure to wear the proper size cup or supporter. One that's too large or one that's too small will not protect you from injury. Talk with your coach or your doctor if you have any questions about what to use.
Injuries to your testicles can be painful. But they don't have to stop you from a healthy and exciting lifestyle. Just remember, they are not common, they are seldom serious, and you can take steps to protect yourself from injury.