Can You Actually Break Your Tailbone — Or Only Bruise It?

Causes and remedies for this painful injury
Can You Actually Break Your Tailbone — Or Only Bruise It?

If your tailbone hurts, you know that it is, quite literally, a pain in the backside. Not to worry, though — understanding the causes and finding treatment options for tailbone pain will help you feel better.

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While relatively uncommon, tailbone pain, also known as coccydynia, is sometimes very uncomfortable. It might make you wonder why you have a tailbone at all; what purpose does it serve?

“The coccyx (tailbone) is made up of three to five small bones at the base of your spine and is often considered the remnant of a tail,” says emergency medicine and sports medicine specialist Thomas Waters, MD. “The tailbone serves somewhat as a weight-bearing structure when a person is seated, but other than that, it has no true function.”

However, you really can break it.

“While it’s more likely that you will suffer a bruised tailbone, just like any bone, you can fracture your tailbone,” Dr. Waters says.

What are common causes of tailbone injury?

Tailbone injuries can occur when someone experiences trauma to the tailbone — such as from a fall or during childbirth — although many times, the exact cause of the trauma is unknown.

Other tailbone problems result from sports-related injuries: Cycling puts constant pressure on the tailbone, while ice skaters and gymnasts are at a greater risk of falling and hurting their tailbones.

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Older adults who have osteopenia (bone deterioration) and other bone disorders are also at greater risk for tailbone fracture when they fall, says Dr. Waters.

When should you see your doctor?

The primary symptom of a tailbone injury is moderate to severe pain when you apply pressure to the tailbone area, such as when you sit. Pain usually improves when you stand or lean forward while sitting (alleviating the pressure), Dr. Waters says.

Other symptoms of a tailbone injury may include:

  • Sudden numbness or tingling.
  • An increase in pain or swelling.
  • Leg weakness.
  • Problems controlling your bowels or bladder, or constipation.

“You should talk to your doctor if tailbone pain is severe and affects your ability to go about your daily activities. Also, ask your doctor if you are concerned about other injuries due to the trauma,” says Dr. Waters.

How are tailbone injuries identified and treated?

In addition to a physical examination, your doctor will need to know about any trauma you may have sustained to the tailbone area.

If your doctor suspects a fracture, a lateral X-ray of the tailbone can help find any significant problems, Dr. Waters says.

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Treatment options vary depending on whether the injury is a bruise or fracture, he says. For both types of injuries, treatment may include:

  • Medication for pain. Doctors may prescribe conservative use of pain medications
  • Special pillows. “Doughnut” pillows, which feature an opening in the middle, alleviate pressure on the tailbone when sitting
  • Physical therapy. This may include exercises to stretch the ligaments and strengthen supporting muscles
  • Steroid injectionsThese help ease pain and inflammation.
  • Avoidance of activities that strain the area. This includes prolonged sitting and bike riding.

How long can a tailbone injury take to heal?

“A tailbone injury is often very painful and slow to heal,” says Dr. Waters.

A bruised tailbone can take up to four weeks to heal, while healing time for a fracture can take eight to 12 weeks, he says.

While tailbone injuries are relatively uncommon, if you experience prolonged pain or worry about secondary injuries resulting from trauma in the tailbone area, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.

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