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Phimosis is when the opening of the foreskin of the penis is too small, or the foreskin is too tight or stuck to the head of the penis. This makes it difficult to retract the foreskin over the tip of the penis.

Foreskin of the Penis
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The foreskin is connected to a newborn’s penis at birth. This called physiologic phimosis. As a child grows, the foreskin naturally separates from the head of the penis. In some boys, the foreskin does not separate. The reason why is not known.

In other cases, called pathologic phimosis, it may happen due to:

  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Adhesions
  • Repeated forceful retraction of the foreskin
  • Inflammation and swelling

Risk Factors

Phimosis is more common in young boys. It may also occur in older boys and men.

Risk factors for phimosis may include:

  • Trauma
  • Bacterial infections such as balanitis
  • Poor hygiene


Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to retract the foreskin
  • Pain
  • Swelling and redness
  • Scarring


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It will include a genital exam. The diagnosis is made based on the ability of the foreskin to retract.


Phimosis may improve with time. If treatment is needed it will be chosen depending on the cause of your phimosis. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

Your doctor may advise medication that is applied to the area. Medication can help decrease swelling and loosen the skin.

If medication is not successful and surgical procedure may be done. The foreskin may need to be partially or totally removed. This can be done with circumcision. Occasionally, small connections, called adhesions, can be removed.


There are ways to reduce your chances of getting phimosis. These may include:

  • When able to do so, gently retract the foreskin when urinating and bathing
  • Good hygeine of the penis and foreskin
  • Circumcision to remove the foreskin


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics

Canadian Resources

Canadian Paediatric Society

Health Canada


McGregor T, Pike J, et al. Pathologic and physiologic phimosis. Can Fam Physician. 2007 March;53(3):445-448.

Phimosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 26, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2016.

Phimosis. University of California, San Francisco website. Available at: Accessed February 19, 2016.

Phimosis and paraphimosis. Patient UK website. Available at: Updated June 16, 2014. Accessed February 19, 2016..

Phimosis (tight foreskin). NHS Choices website. Available at: Updated August 26, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2016.

Tight foreskin (phimosis). The British Association of Urological Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed February 19, 2016.

Tight foreskin (phimosis). NetDoctor website. Available at: Updated April 29, 2015. Accessed February 19, 2016.