When Testicular Pain is NOT the Result of a Problem with the Testicles
The experience of pain, no matter its location, is your body’s way of alerting you to something wrong. Often, when we experience pain, we understandably assume that the anatomical features involved in the area of the pain must be to blame for it. Sometimes, that isn’t the case. When pain arising from one area of the body is not the direct cause of the organs, muscles, tissues, nerves, or other structural features of that body part, it is called referred pain. Referred pain means that a problem in one area of the body is causing pain in another location.
Throughout their lives, many men may experience pain in one or both testicles and for various reasons. The pain may be described as achy, sharp, pressure-like, or can feel as if a clamp is compressing the testicle. Men who experience testicular pain can sometimes develop constant or intermittent pain. It is crucial to note that the intricate nerve system of the testes tracks up to the kidneys. The testes grow in the womb at the kidney level and descend through the inguinal canal into the scrotum. This is why, when the testicle is struck, one may develop pain not only in the testicle but a radiating pain through the inguinal canal, to the flank area, and up to the kidney. The testicles are also attached to the prostate via the Vas Deferens, traversing through the inguinal canal and deep into the pelvis. Needless to say, trauma to the testicles can feel like a total gut punch!
Testicular pain, especially in the absence of a traumatic injury, can be deeply concerning for any man experiencing it. Because many people don’t know about referred pain, men can sometimes inaccurately assume the very worst about their testicular pain – as a sign of testicular cancer. While testicular pain can be a symptom of testicular cancer, it often isn’t the only one. Sometimes, testicular cancer can be present, and the man has experienced other symptoms (testicular swelling, a lump in the testicle, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum) but no pain. So, it’s essential to understand that a sense of pain in the testicle doesn’t necessarily indicate cancer and often can signal one of four common issues below that don’t originate within the testes.
Kidney Stones: A kidney stone is a small deposit or calcification that develops in a kidney and can be very painful when passed. When a kidney stone moves out of the kidney and enters the ureter, the stone obstructs the urine flow, causing urine to accumulate inside the kidney. This phenomenon leads to the kidney becoming swollen, dilated, and stretched. The stretch and tension on the kidney capsule are often felt as general pain in the flank area. As the stone travels down the ureter, it will cause ureteral spasm. The combination of kidney capsule stretch and ureteral spasm will cause referred pain down to the testicle on the same side as the stone.
Inguinal Hernia: The Vas Deferens is the tubing system that carries sperm from the testicle to the prostate gland’s ejaculatory duct. The Vas Deferens travel through the inguinal canal. When a man has an inguinal hernia, the pressure developed in the inguinal canal causes irritation and sometimes inflammation of the Vas Deferens, frequently leading to testicular pain.
Urinary Tract Infection: The urinary tract includes the urethra, prostate, testicle, epididymis, bladder, ureter, and kidney. While a bladder infection usually does not cause pain in the testicle, conditions in other locations of the urinary tract will frequently cause testicular pain. Infections in the epididymis, prostate, and kidney can also cause pain in the testicle.
Sexually Transmitted Infections: Sexually transmitted infections in men affect the penis, urethra, prostate, epididymis and the testicle. Infections in these areas can cause inflammation, swelling, and increased pressure in the Vas Deferens, epididymis, and testicles. Depending on the infection type, one symptom of a sexually transmitted infection is pain in the testicle.
Be it a kidney stone, inguinal hernia, urinary tract infection, sexually transmitted infection, or something else entirely, men should never ignore pain in one or both testicles. Problems resulting in pain are almost always easiest to treat in their early stages. Getting to the bottom of this pain sooner rather than later can usually spell faster relief for men and a return to otherwise active and healthy living.
(Dr. Ramin’s email answers were provided on 8/17/23)