Identifying and Treating a Broken Coccyx
A broken coccyx can be a difficult injury to handle. There are three types of actual breakage that can occur, which are: cracking, chipping, or a full break. The most common type of trauma to occur to the coccyx is actually bruising, which is often mistaken as a chip or crack. We are going to talk about the symptoms of tailbone injury as well as the treatment options available.
The coccyx is a bone that is most often referred to as the “tailbone” because of its tail-like resemblance. It is not visible through the skin but can be noticed as the triangular-shaped bone that extends off of the lowest portion of the spine. In fact, it is technically composed of three vertebrae that are fused together to gently slope into the pelvic area. Much like the vertebrae found in the backbone, the coccyx vertebrae do allow for a certain amount of flexibility, but can only be pushed so far before damage occurs.
The symptoms of a broken coccyx are pretty limited, and the only sure sign you can use to identify that something is wrong is pain in the area of the tailbone (or if the bone actually protrudes from under the skin). As there is not a great deal of tissue surrounding the coccyx, it is quite easy to damage the area. The coccyx is usually injured due to a fall in which this area absorbs the impact, such falling while skating and landing in a seated position or falling down the stairs in a seated position. While many people have fallen on the “tailbone” and suffered through several days of pain (I know I have!), not every fall results in a break.
As I mentioned earlier, the coccyx is designed to withstand a certain amount of pressure and in most cases, the extent of the damage usually bruising which results in tenderness and painful movement, especially when sitting and getting out of bed. Bruising may even cause tenderness in the area of the tailbone during bowel movements. It really just depends on how bad the damage is. If the pain seems pretty bad, it may be time to visit the doctor for an exam.
To tell whether the tailbone has indeed been fractured, the doctor places a gloved finger into the anus and tests how much the bone “gives”. If the bone seems to move in an unnatural manner (and likely resulting in a yelp of pain from the patient), it is pretty clear that the bone has indeed been fractured. It is up to the doctor as to whether x-rays are taken or not. In most cases, an x-ray will help to point out exactly what kind of fracture has occurred. This usually does not have an effect on the type of treatment the doctor will recommend as in most cases doctors will not attempt to realign the coccyx. The muscles that surround the tailbone are quite tough and would likely just keep pulling the coccyx back out of alignment.
The main goal after identifying a severely bruised or broken coccyx is to work out a pain management treatment. A damaged coccyx can remain painful for a very long time—even after the initial damage has gone. Pain medication may be prescribed to the patient in addition to a few other everyday activities that can ease the pain. For instance, sitting on a doughnut cushion or a phone book (allowing the coccyx area to remain unsupported by the book) can make a world of difference in the amount of pain felt throughout the day while sitting. If the pain is particularly bad during bowel movements, the patient may be asked to take fiber supplements or subsidize their diet with extra fruits and veggies to soften the stool, which will help the muscles around the coccyx relax during movement.
If the pain is persistent and remains so for a long period of time—to the point that the patient is disabled by it—the doctor may choose to perform a surgery that removes the coccyx. This is called a coccygectomy and is very rarely performed due to the high risk of infection (since it’s so close to the anus) as well as the possibility of further complications developing. In most cases, the coccyx is later reattached to prevent bowel movement issues.
If there is any doubt about the severity of a coccyx injury, you should consult your doctor right away.