Tailbone pain is pain in a section of the spine at the end known as the coccyx. The medical term for this is coccydynia. Sometimes coccyalgia is used instead.
What Does the Tailbone Do?
The coccyx extends beyond the pelvis and serves as an anchor for a number of ligaments and tendons. Many of these connect to bones and muscles in the legs and pelvic area. For this reason, the coccyx is necessary for the full range of motion people enjoy in their legs and pelvis.
It also helps people with balance and stability while sitting. Weight is distributed between the coccyx and the two sides of the pelvis, providing a triangular base for support.
What Causes Tailbone Pain?
Tailbone pain can have a variety of causes, but most instances of it come from a couple rather straightforward sources. A backward fall, especially when landing on the buttocks, can result in a bruised tailbone.
In serious cases, the tailbone may be broken or dislocated. Naturally, any blunt trauma to the area may cause pain, even if not caused by a fall.
Women are far more likely to suffer from tailbone pain than men. This is partly due to the other common causes such as pregnancy. The ligaments and other tissues surrounding the tailbone loosen late in pregnancy to make additional room for the baby. Childbirth may also inflict trauma to the area. Another reason why women are more prone to coccyx pain is that women’s pelvises are broader than men’s and leave the coccyx bone more exposed.
Tailbone injuries are more common in certain sports. Bicyclists, for example, are more likely to suffer from tailbone pain due to the repeated force and trauma inflicted on the coccyx from riding a bike. Rowers can develop the same due to the constant grinding of the coccyx area against their seat.
The normal effects of aging can also cause such pain. Additionally, the coccyx may cause pain due to the development of bone spurs or pinched nerves. Coccyx pain may be caused by an injury elsewhere in the spinal column that radiates pain into the tailbone.
Rarely, pain in the coccyx may be caused by some underlying medical issue, such as a disease. An examination performed by a physician may be necessary to determine whether the cause of pain is not accompanied by a relevant injury.
How to Treat Coccyx Pain
The most common way to treat tailbone pain is with pain medications. For less severe pain, over the counter medications such as ibuprofen may be sufficient.
Anti-inflammatory pain medications are preferable over medicines like acetaminophen. For more severe pain, prescription pain medications may be necessary.
In the instance of falls or other traumatic injuries to the coccyx, ice can also help alleviate the pain. Alternatively, some find heat sources such as heating pads to be helpful.
Patients may also be advised to avoid putting pressure on the tailbone area. This may mean that sitting with certain postures, if at all, may be difficult. Leaning forward while sitting may help as it reduces pressure from body weight on the coccyx. Avoid sitting on hard surfaces. Using pillows may help. There are even pillows specifically designed to take pressure off of the coccyx area. If all else fails, laying down may be the preferable method of resting.
If coccyx pain makes bowel movements difficult or painful, patients may eat fiber or take stool softeners to reduce the discomfort.
Doctors may directly inject medication at the site of the pain in order to relieve it. Options include anti-inflammatory drugs or numbing agents. Sometimes manual manipulation or the coccyx bones by a physician may help. Alternatively, massaging the area can also reduce pain.
If pain is long term, physical therapy may be used to strengthen the pelvic muscles. This may provide relief in certain cases. Pain medications and avoiding pressure on the coccyx area are usually enough to treat coccyx pain. Most tailbone injuries should heal and the pain should subside within a few days.
However, in instances of chronic tailbone pain, a doctor may elect to partially or fully amputate the tailbone. This procedure is called a coccygectomy. This operation is rarely performed and may require a long recovery period before the patient is able to feel any benefit.
Preventing Tailbone Injuries
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent most tailbone injuries, considering that many of them come from accidental falls and similar mishaps. Tailbone pain caused by pregnancy is also not easily avoided.
However, regarding certain sporting activities, there are a few things that can be done to prevent tailbone injuries. WebMD recommends using protective padding when engaged in sporting activities that may hurt or injure the coccyx area.
People may exercise caution if engaged in an activity where an accident may easily occur, such as ice skating or roller blading. Ultimately, avoiding tailbone pain may simply be a matter of how accident-prone a person is.