Tailbone — overview

The tailbone, more properly known as the coccyx, is situated at the very end of the spinal column. The tailbone is made up of three to five fused vertebral bones, though four is most common. While there is a common conception that the tailbone is a leftover part with no purpose, this is not the case. The coccyx is an important point of attachment for tendons, ligaments and muscles, though it is structured quite differently than other parts of the spine.

Anatomy of the tailbone

The tailbone is the last of five regions of the spine – below the cervical (upper) spine, thoracic (middle) spine, lumbar (lower) spine and the sacrum, which attached to the hips. The tailbone connects to the sacrum via a cartilaginous joint, which is similar in composition to the spine’s discs.

Muscles that attach to the tailbone and contribute to sitting, standing and bowel control include:

  • Gluteus maximus – large gluteal muscle; helps keep body erect
  • Levator ani – thin muscle; helps support organs of the pelvis
  • Sphincter ani externus – flat muscle; assists in bowel function
  • Coccygeus – triangular muscle; supports the pelvic floor

The tailbone is referred to as the coccygeal region and the bones diminish in size as they go down. Unlike the vertebral bones in most other spinal regions, the tailbone has no spinous processes, pedicles or laminae.

The tailbone and spine conditions

Pain felt in the coccyx is referred to as coccydynia. However, sometimes pain felt near the tailbone is due to damage or injury in other parts of the spine. For instance radiating pain, felt shooting down the legs could be from foraminal stenosis in the lumbar spine, a condition involving the narrowing of the foramen, which are the small nerve root exits in the spine. If these spaces become narrow, increased stress is put on the nerves, which could contribute to symptoms of traveling pain, numbness and tingling. Other consequences could include a loss of ability to move properly. Because the tailbone does support so much weight, injuries in this area can potentially transfer large amounts of increased stress to other areas of the spine, thereby making them more prone to damage.

If you are experiencing pain in your tailbone, see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. If it is related to a spine condition he or she may recommend a conservative treatment plan, including rest, physical therapy, pain medication or steroid injections. If weeks or months of this type of treatment does not bring relief, surgery can become an option.

Laser Spine Institute performs minimally invasive spine surgery as an alternative to traditional open back surgery. By using a less than 1-inch incision to access the spine, our procedures spare muscles. This helps patients experience less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time^ compared to traditional spine surgery.

Contact us for your no-cost MRI review* to determine if you may be a candidate for one of our outpatient procedures.