How Is Sperm Motility Examined?

By BSc, MSc (embryologist), BSc, MSc (embryologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 02/23/2015

Sperm motility plays an important role in beginning of a natural pregnancy, since the sperm needs to travel a long way to reach and fertilize the egg.

A seminogram is used to analyze the motility of the sperm. To perform this analysis, the man has to leave a sample of his sperm inside an approved bottle, labelled with his name, in the andrology laboratory. In addition, the collection of the semen sample should be done after a sexual abstinence of 3 to 5 days.

The laboratory will use this sperm sample to analyze the movement of the spermatozoids, an essential parameter so that sperm can reach the fallopian tubes and fertilize the egg.

Below you have an index with the 5 points we are going to deal with in this article.

How is it measured?

Mobility assessment consists of several parts. First, the total percentage of mobile and immobile spermatozoids is analyzed and, secondly, the way the spermatozoids move is also analyzed:

  • Progressive motility, that is, if the spermatozoid advances and, if the distance that it runs is rectilinear or not.
  • Velocity.
  • The total number of mobile and viable spermatozoids in the ejaculate is calculated.

Motility problems

The pathology more often associated with the motility of sperm is called asthenozoospermia. It is defined as an alteration of semen, characterized by low sperm motility. A man suffers from asthenozoospermia when the number of sperm with progressive mobility (rectilinear or not) is less than 32% and when the total number of motile sperm in the ejaculate is less than 40%, according to the values established by WHO.

This alteration can be a fertility problem, because it prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg naturally.

Alterations in the sperm mobility usually have an unknown origin and have no specific treatment. However, in some cases, these parameters can be improved with antioxidant treatments with vitamin A, C and E.

Motility and vitality

It is important to note that motility is not always related to vitality. When the sperm is microscopically observed, we might think that the lack of mobility means the spermatozoids are dead, but this need not be the case.

There are tests, like the eosin or hypoosmotic test, that detect vitality in sperm that do not move and allow us to distinguish between those spermatozoids that do not move because of their deterioration or some mechanical failure, from those that do not move because they are dead.

With living but immobile sperm, a natural pregnancy is not possible, but the spermatozoids can be used in an in vitro fertilization (IVF / ICSI) so that the woman can get pregnant.

Kartagener Syndrome

There's a pathology, related to sperm motility, called Kartagener Syndrome. This is an unusual syndrome characterized by the existence of immobile spermatozoids that are not all dead.

The lack of motility happens due to a disorder characterized by the non existence of ciliary movement in the sperm cells. Human airways are affected by this disorder, so the man normally knows he suffers from this disorder even before he starts thinking about being a father. ICSI is an assisted reproduction technique that can be used in these cases.

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Authors and contributors

 Laura Mifsud Elena
Laura Mifsud Elena
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biomedical Research from the University of Valencia, and another Master's Degree in Medicine and Reproductive Genetics from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche. Large experience working as an embryologist and head of laboratory at the Quirónsalud Hospital of Valencia, Spain. More information about Laura Mifsud Elena
 Neus Ferrando Gilabert
Neus Ferrando Gilabert
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH). Experience managing Embryology and Andrology Labs at Centro Médico Manzanera (Logroño, Spain). More information about Neus Ferrando Gilabert
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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