Poor Sperm Morphology

What is poor morphology?

Poor morphology, or teratozoospermia in medical-speak, means that the size and shape of the sperm are abnormal. The defect in the sperm will be in the head and/or tail of the sperm. These changes make it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg or even penetrate the egg once it does get there. Regardless, a very high percentage of poor morphology negatively affects fertility.


“I’ve been coming to Dylan Stein Acupuncture for nearly a year with my primary focus around male fertility and secondary focus on dermatology issues.  As my wife and I had been trying to conceive, prior to coming to Dylan, I had two semen analyses tests performed.  In both tests, my sperm count, motility, and morpohology were all below normal.  After three months of treatment, which included herbs and acupuncture, but also significant changes to diet as a result of Dylan’s recommendations,  subsequent semen analysis tests showed significant improvement in all categories, with all three measures (count/motility/morphology) rated in “normal-high” ranges.  Moreover, Dylan has been a wonderful advisor as my wife and I embark on our journey to have children.”

–SC, age 33

Doesn’t everyone have some abnormal sperm?

Yes! Poor morphology is common. In fact, it is expected that only about 4% of sperm will be normal. So, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not alone. And you will still be able to conceive with poor morphology.

How is poor sperm morphology related to Male Factor?

Male Factor is a category of infertility issues stemming from a problem with either sperm production or the passage of sperm out of the man’s body and into the woman’s (i.e., an internal blockage of some kind). So, poor sperm morphology (teratozoospermia) is definitely related to Male Factor. Approximately 1 in 6 couples today experience infertility, and have trouble getting pregnant. Of those, somewhere between a third and half are experiencing infertility because of Male Factor fertility issues. Research has shown that acupuncture and herbal medicine can help. Generally speaking, results are better when both the man and woman are receiving treatment in tandem. It takes two to tango, after all.

What are the symptoms of poor morphology?

When semen is visualized under a microscope, the sperm should have an ovoid head and a single long tail. Sperm with poor morphology deviate from this standard shape. The medical term for sperm with abnormal morphology is “teratozoospermia.”

What causes poor morphology?

The causes of poor sperm morphology are not understood. Some of the conditions that may affect sperm morphology include:

  • Diseases, such as celiac, Hodgkin’s, or Crohn’s
  • Causes of low sperm motility can also affect sperm morphology, such as testicular swelling (varicocele), environmental factors, and lifestyle
  • Chemical exposure
  • Hyperthermia (i.e., the testicles are too hot)
Picture of a human sperm

Human Sperm Cell

How is poor morphology diagnosed by a doctor?

Semen analysis allows sperm to be collected for inspection under a microscope. Any shape that is different from the normal sperm shape of a round head and long tail—including small or large heads or multiple or crooked tails—is counted as “abnormal.” The percentage of abnormal sperm can be high — up to 96% — in your average guy. However, if too many sperm have abnormal shapes, the poor morphology of sperm may prevent successful fertilization of the egg.

How does an acupuncturist diagnose poor morphology?

The short answer? We don’t diagnose anyone with poor morphology. We just treat them. Chinese medicine was developed thousands of years ago. There was no sperm analysis back then because the individual sperm themselves had not yet been visualized (can’t do that without a microscope). The men I treat in my clinic typically already have a diagnosis of poor morphology or after trying to conceive for a while without success have a hunch there may be a Male Factor problem. This is generally why I encourage both the man and the woman in the couple to get treated. That way we cover all our bases.

In Chinese medicine, we treat what we see. So, whether your sperm are normally shaped or not, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to be treating the whole you as you are that day in my clinic. The abnormal sperm are the symptom, what we call the “branch,” of an underlying “root” issue. By finding the points of disharmony and helping the body re-achieve balance – by treating both the root and the branch – your sperm will work themselves out.

How is poor morphology treated by my doctor?

Treating poor sperm morphology often involves a “wait and see” approach: time to allow the condition to cure itself. If this does not happen, then the following treatment options to improve sperm morphology are possible:

  • Collecting sperm, even if it is abnormal, and injecting it directly into the egg outside (ICSI) or inside (IUI) the uterus
  • Hormone treatment to correct imbalances
  • Surgery to treat swelling (varicocele)
  • Drugs to treat bacterial infection (if present)

How is poor morphology (teratozoospermia) treated by acupuncture?

Acupuncture and herbal medicine work by freeing up the traffic jams in the energetic highways and byways of your body. I also use nutrition and dietary therapy, and often teach self-massage, to help treat my patients.

From a purely Chinese medicine perspective, problems with the form of things, like shape of sperm, are usually indicative of a problem with the Jing (Essence, or blueprint) of the body, or the Kidney (remember, this is the Chinese medicine Kidney more than the kidneys you learned about in biology class). Disease can arise for other reasons, so I will ask you all sorts of questions about your health, diet and lifestyle to identify what acupuncturists call a “pattern of disharmony.” I use the pattern to guide the treatment.

To make an appointment with me for treatment, please go to the Appointments page. If you have further questions, feel free to ask me through the Contact page.