Ask a Urologist - Athletic Cups and Supporters

Q: My 7-year-old son is starting to get involved in youth sports. Why does he need an athletic cup or supporter?

A: It is very important for boys to wear an athletic cup to protect their groin area from blunt trauma injuries when playing sports. Any fast-moving kick, ball or helmet that hits a boy in the groin area can cause serious damage, including severe bruising, internal bleeding, testicular fracture or rupture. Two more serious injuries that can result from blunt trauma to the testicles include torsion and rupture. Testicular torsion, while rare, is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. It occurs when the testicle twists around itself and the blood supply is cut off. Testicular rupture happens when the testicle is knocked against the pubic bone and bleeds into the scrotum. If left untreated too long, these issues can lead to the boy losing a testicle.

Q: Are athletic cups and supporters appropriate for boys of all ages? At what age should my son start wearing a cup or “jock strap,” and how do I know what kind he needs?

A: Hockey players of all ages wear helmets, and kids playing soccer wear shin guards no matter what grade they’re in. In the same way, all boy athletes need to wear something to protect the groin area when they start playing sports. If your son plays a contact sport – like football, soccer, baseball, basketball or hockey – he should wear a cup made from a hard plastic or metal as soon as he is big enough to fit in one. Usually cups have small holes allowing for airflow, and may have a gel material inside for comfort. The cup is held in place by an athletic supporter or “jock strap.” These are made from cloth, with an elastic waistband and straps around the legs. The supporter should have a pouch to hold the cup. As an alternative to an athletic supporter, compression shorts are often available with a pouch to fit the cup. Many boys find compression shorts more comfortable than traditional athletic supporters because there are no bands that may dig into the skin.

If your son is in a noncontact sport that involves running, he may just need to wear an athletic supporter or compression shorts without the cup. The supporter or compression shorts lift and hold the penis and testicles close to the body, out of the way during movement. If you are unsure what your son needs for a particular sport, ask the coach or athletic director.

Q: How do I know what size cup and supporter to buy?

A: Generally cups are sized by age. “Pee wee” may fit boys up to age 6 or 7. “Youth” may fit boys up to puberty. Then there are “teen” and finally “adult” sizes. But while sizes vary, it is most important the cup fits well. For a cup to work, it must fit tightly against the body. Choose a supporter with a comfortable but secure-fitting waistband, and leg straps tight enough to prevent rolling or twisting. Compression shorts should also be chosen based on waist size. They should be snug but not uncomfortable. Have your son check that the cup and supporter (or compression shorts) are tight enough to prevent movement (but do not pinch) before wearing during a practice or game.