When it comes to certain injuries, in certain areas, none are more feared among men than those caused by a jammed trouser zipper. And inevitably, when metal teeth meet soft flesh, there will only be one winner.
But now, 100 years after the modern zip was invented by a Swedish-American engineer, a technique devised by doctors at St Mary's Hospital in London offers hope to legions of men who find themselves rushing to A&E in excruciating pain, and embarrassment, each year.
Instead of using saws or resorting to circumcision, the new method of freeing the blocked zip involves "liberal lubrication" and a device that pulls the zip apart. Tools traditionally used to break the zip and free its captive have included bone cutters and mini-hacksaws. Penis injuries caused by zips can trigger "swelling and intense pain" and can also result in blood loss and tissue damage, doctors said.
In the new procedure, a needle-holder, said to resemble a pair of scissors and normally used by doctors to hold the needle during suturing, is used to slowly pull the zipper apart. "This... is quick, non-traumatic and [uses] readily available equipment," say the St Mary's researchers in a report published in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine.
"Zipper injuries are highly distressing to patients and are often difficult to manage," they add. "Many techniques [require] sophisticated instruments in skilled hands, or even a formal operation." The technique has so far been used on two patients "ineligible for circumcision".
Only one study, in the US, has attempted to count zip-related penile injuries. University of California researchers found that over a nine-year period some 18,000 men and boys were treated at emergency units for "penile entrapment". "Owing to their location, trouser zips account for a significant proportion of penile injuries," the researchers said.