Sperm Motility: Causes, Treatment, and More

In the pursuit of having a child, many people invest in fertility treatment. 

Infertility affects 8% to 12% of couples around the globe. 

Male infertility is the main or contributing cause in roughly 50% of cases, 2021 statistics show. 

Those with low sperm motility or immobile sperm may be unable to fertilize the egg. (1)

In other words, sperm motility is a central sperm quality parameter in achieving a natural pregnancy. 

Thanks to IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments, couples might still conceive with reduced sperm motility. Even in situations where there is just immobile, live sperm present. 

Here is a more detailed analysis of what sperm motility is, and the signs of low sperm count you should know about.

What Is the Normal Sperm Motility?

Motility means sperm being able to “swim” or move. This is a crucial factor for them to successfully fertilize an egg. 

A motile count of 20 million or over is viewed as normal. But, even if you have normal sperm motility, it doesn’t mean it will guarantee a pregnancy. 

Less than 20 million motile sperm reduce the odds of conception. Different types of sperm motility exist. 

When doctors test sperm count, they can use the sperm motility results to see how well the sperm is doing. You have:

  • Grade A – These sperms are fast progressive. They are powerful and move quickly in a straight line.
  • Grade B – These sperms often move through the female reproductive system in a crooked or curved manner. They have slow-progressive motility.
  • Grade C – These sperms might move their tail but won’t move forward, resulting in non-progressive motility.
  • Grade D – These sperms are incapable of moving, so they are immotile.

Want to know what normal semen analysis test results look like? Then check below.

  • Total Motility: 40% or over 
  • Sperm Count: 40,000,000 or over
  • Total Progressive Motility: 32% or over
  • Volume: 2.0 mL or greater
  • Sperm Concentration: 20,000,000 or over/mL
  • Morphology (% of normal-looking sperm): 4% or more normal

Progressive sperm motility is the favored type of sperm movement. It means that the sperm are moving in straight lines or big circles and is bursting forward instead of moving in smaller circles and using erratic paths.

What Happens if Sperm Motility Is Low?

If a man shows low sperm count signs and motility, then he could have male factor infertility. Following ovulation, the egg remains in the fallopian tube for 12h to 24h. 

The sperm is supposed to fertilize the egg in this time period. Low sperm motility makes the sperm unable to swim up to fallopian tubes and fertilize the egg in time. 

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Can Someone Get Pregnant if Their Partner Has Low Motility?

What is a normal sperm count for getting pregnant? Normal quality semen features 40 – 300 million sperm/milliliter. Low sperm count ranges from 10 – 20 million sperm/milliliter. 

So, a normal sperm count to get pregnant could be over 20 million sperm/milliliter – if there is healthy quality sperm. 

If your semen analysis shows good motility, few sperm won’t be that big of an issue. But if motility and sperm count show up low on your sperm analysis, then it might take longer for you to conceive. 

That’s why many fertility experts are worried if the sperm motility is just 20% when it should be 60- 80% and moving.

After having a semen analysis test, patients may ask, “shouldn’t a single sperm be enough to get the partner pregnant? If I have 20% motility and 10 million sperm count, I should have at least 2 million motile sperm to conceive?” 

But, there is one problem. Infertile men with sperm with low motility and lower than average sperm count don’t typically have functionally competent sperm. 

In other words, the functional ability of the motile sperm is not good enough. They don’t move efficiently, causing fertility issues.

Are There Any Symptoms of Low Motility Sperm?

You might not notice any symptoms of low sperm count unless you start trying to have a baby. If you have below normal sperm count, and this problem results from an underlying ailment, like hormone imbalance, then the symptoms could be linked to that ailment. This is not the same as experiencing low sperm count symptoms, but it could help you identify the problem. 

These symptoms could include:

  • Reduced amount of body or facial hair
  • Pain, discomfort, or swelling around the testicles
  • Inability to maintain or get a penile erection
  • Reduced sex drive

What Causes Low Motility Sperm?

Men younger than 40 have higher odds of having a baby. Sperm health, however, dwindles with age. Motility continues to drop between 20 to 80 years of age. 

Other low sperm motility causes could include: 

  • Injury (like spinal cord injury)
  • Undescended testicle
  • Infection (i.e., epididymitis, orchitis, and certain sexually transmitted infections)
  • Prior testicle surgery
  • Testicular cancer
  • A problem since birth
  • Drug and alcohol consumption
  • Heavy smoking

Research suggests that lifestyle factors have a profound impact on sperm concentration. If you rely heavily on processed goodies, sugar, soy, high-fat dairy, and trans fats in your regular diet, this could hurt your fertility. 

Ideally, you should focus on making healthier lifestyle choices. This includes incorporating more vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and healthy foods into your meals. 

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When to See a Doctor?

Most couples conceive within a year of regular sex without contraception. If you’ve been trying for a very long time, it’s best to see a urologist. Your doctor can diagnose you properly and see whether hormones or abnormalities affect semen health. 

Preparing for a sperm test

  • Don’t ejaculate 24-72 hours before testing.
  • Don’t take drugs (like cocaine), caffeine, or alcohol 2-5 days before testing.
  • Consult a healthcare expert on when to stop using herbal medications.
  • Talk to your doctor about the hormone meds you should avoid.


During a doctor’s appointment, the urologist will also suggest your partner get a fertility evaluation. This can help get to the root of the problem. 

The diagnosis begins with a physical examination of the genitals. They will ask if you’ve had an ailment, surgery, chronic problems, or conditions that run in the family. 

You will then have a semen analysis. The doctor will need a semen sample, which can be obtained through masturbation or collected in a unique condom during intercourse. 

If the test results indicate a fertility problem, the urologist could suggest an additional sperm test. These can include: 

  • Specialized sperm function tests
  • Anti-sperm antibody tests
  • Transrectal ultrasound
  • Testicular biopsy
  • Scrotal ultrasound
  • Genetic testing
  • Post-ejaculation urinalysis
  • Hormone testing

After evaluating the semen sample, only a doctor can recommend the best course of action and offer an adequate fertility prognosis. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor might ask for further testing.


Can You Improve Sperm Motility?

Most factors that harm moving sperm are entirely reversible. So, how long does it take to fix sperm motility? Experts state that men can increase their motility in 1 to 2 weeks after starting a healthy diet. 

Take vitamin deficiencies, for example. Research suggests that consuming 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily for two months can amplify sperm motility by more than 90%. It can also increase sperm count. So, before trying artificial insemination, work on your diet first. But don’t forget to give your body time to reap the benefits of a healthy diet.  

Test sperm count after sticking to a healthy dietary regimen for at least two weeks. Besides, many foods can prevent or manage oxidative stress. Like berries, broccoli, carrots, and so on. And oxidative stress can cause DNA damage and break down cell tissue, leading to serious ailments like cancer and diabetes. Both of which can have a detrimental impact on fertility health.

Men who consume higher amounts of veggies and fruits, predominantly legumes and green leafy veggies, have a better sperm concentration and motility than those who consume less of these products. (2)


Many couples with fertility issues wonder if low sperm count is treatable. If you or your partner have low sperm motility, there are a couple of wellness tips to try. First, having regular sex (at least every 2 to 3 days) could set you on the right track.

Minimizing the alcohol intake or stopping smoking can also help. Ideally, you should keep the body in tip-top shape and lower the body mass index. You can supply the system with the necessary nutrients by incorporating nutritious and healthy lifestyle habits. 

If regular physical activity and balanced eating don’t help, then experts can suggest different treatment alternatives. These can include:


Younger couples are more likely to get pregnant through IVF. In 2019, the chances for success of IVF treatments that led to live births was 32% for women younger than 35. It reached 25% for those between 35-37. But, it dropped to 4% for those older than 44. 


If your spermogram test came back with no or few sperm, and you’ve been trying to conceive for at least two years, then doctors can suggest Intracytoplasmic sperm injection. This treatment fertilizes 50% to 80% of eggs. 

Gonadotropin treatment 

In men, the use of injectable hormones can elevate sperm count. Individuals with plummeting gonadotropin levels tend to use these fertility drugs. The goal is to stimulate ovulation in women and improve conception rates in men.

Donor insemination 

In the case of dead sperm, many couples use frozen donor sperm. Recently, almost half a million American women have used donor sperm. Couples may also opt for this alternative if there is a genetic disorder in the family they don’t wish to pass on to their child. (3)

To deal with the ups and downs of fertility treatment, we suggest you get an honest estimate from your doctor about the chances of success. That way, you can better understand the implantation issues and see which treatment might work for you.


Understanding how different factors can affect your ability to father a child is important. Like your smoking, drinking, and eating habits can really get in the way of your goal of having a baby. Sometimes, however, the issue could result from an injury or infection. 

When you understand the associations between semen parameters and chances of conception, you can have an easier time dealing with the treatment. 

Of course, with low sperm motility and count, it is difficult to predict when you can get your partner pregnant. But, if you want to boost the odds of fathering a child, we suggest you talk to a specialist. 

They can recommend you work on your diet and physical activity. Or, they may suggest you try alternative treatments such as IVF, ICSI, injectable hormones, or donor insemination.

Explore More

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  1. Agarwal A, Baskaran S, Parekh N, Cho CL, Henkel R, Vij S, Arafa M, Panner Selvam MK, Shah R. Male infertility. Lancet. 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33308486/
  2. Ricci E, Al-Beitawi S, Cipriani S, Alteri A, Chiaffarino F, Candiani M, Gerli S, Viganó P, Parazzini F. Dietary habits and semen parameters: a systematic narrative review. Andrology. 2018. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/andr.12452 
  3. Arocho R, Lozano EB, Halpern CT. Estimates of donated sperm use in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth 1995-2017. Fertil Steril. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6765402/ 

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