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How to Recognize and Protect Young Male Athletes From Genital Injuries

Dan Wood, MD, PhD, FRCS, of the CU Department of Surgery, talks about common injuries to the penis and scrotum and why it’s important to wear a protective cup.

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Written by Greg Glasgow on June 11, 2024

With summer sports such as baseball, soccer, and tennis in full swing, male athletes of all ages need to be aware of the potential for injuries to the scrotum and penis — and how to protect themselves. 

It’s a particularly important issue for young men and their parents to be aware of, as many such injuries happen within youth sports. 

CU Department of Surgery faculty member Dan Wood, MD, PhD, FRCS, professor of urology, says the good news is that most genital injuries incurred on the sporting field aren’t likely to be serious and typically don’t require intervention besides wearing supportive underwear and allowing time to heal — although he acknowledges they can be quite painful.

The most important thing male athletes can do is wear a protective cup when they play sports, Wood says.  

“It’s an easy way to avoid that risk,” he says. “If you do get a blow to the genitals or the testes, it is very painful. It stops you in your tracks, and it might take you off the field. So from that perspective, it's important, but if you wear a cup, it also will prevent severe injuries such as testicular rupture or severe hematoma. It’s a low-hassle intervention to prevent a significant injury.”

Injuries to watch out for

Wood says other genital-area injuries that can happen while playing sports include:

Hematoma — a blood clot inside or on the surface of the testicle that can cause bruising.

“There may be a link between trauma and testicular torsion,” Wood says. “And adolescent boys are more susceptible to torsion than other age groups. If you have a young man with testicular pain that's not resolving within 15 to 20 minutes, they should go see a doctor as an emergency. They should not wait overnight, they should not think about it. They should tell a parent, and they should go to a doctor within a very short space of time. That's an emergency.”

Another simple way to avoid genital and other injuries while playing sports is simply to be considerate of the other players, Wood says.

In addition to protecting themselves from immediate testicular injury, Wood also advocates for young men in their teens to begin performing regular testicular self-examination, looking for lumps and other abnormalities that could indicate the presence of cancer or other issues. 

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Dan Wood, MD, PhD, FRCS