What causes pain to occur in the tailbone region of the spine?

The tailbone, more properly known as the coccyx, is situated at the very end of the spinal column. The tailbone typically is made up of four fused vertebral bones, although sometimes there may be between three to five bones in the vertebral column. The coccyx is an important point of attachment for tendons, ligaments and muscles, though it is structured quite differently from other parts of the spine. Learn more about the tailbone’s relationship to spinal anatomy in the following article as well as the cause of any tailbone pain experienced.

Anatomy of the tailbone

The tailbone is the last of five regions of the spine — below the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper and middle back), lumbar spine (lower back) and the sacral spine, which is located between the pelvic bones and attached to the hips. The tailbone connects to the sacrum via the sacrococcygeal (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 the following:

  • The gluteus maximus — is a large gluteal muscle that helps keep the body erect
  • The levator ani — is a thin muscle that forms the pelvic floor and supports the pelvic organs
  • The external anal sphincter — is a flat muscle that assists in bowel function

The tailbone bones diminish in size as the vertebral bodies go downward. Unlike the vertebral bones in most other spinal regions, the tailbone has no spinous process (a bony projection on the back of each vertebra), pedicles (a small bone connecting the lamina to the vertebral body) or lamina, which makes up the spinal canal.

The tailbone and spine conditions

The pain felt in the tailbone is referred to as coccydynia. However, sometimes the pain felt near the tailbone is due to damage or injury in other parts of the spine. For instance, radiating pain that is felt shooting down the legs could be from foraminal stenosis in the lumbar spine, a condition involving the narrowing of the foramen, which is 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 tingling, muscle weakness and spasms. Other consequences could include a loss of ability to feel or 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, a conservative treatment plan, including rest, physical therapy, pain medication or steroid injections may be recommended. 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 are muscle sparing and help patients experience less risk of complication as well as no lengthy recovery^ compared to traditional spine surgery. Contact Laser Spine Institute, so we can help you on your journey to wellness.

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