About a year ago, I began to notice pain around my coccyx while sitting down. At 52, I’m no stranger to back pain. I’ve suffered from it for years – including in my lower back just above the waist and my upper back around the shoulder blades. However, this new tailbone pain alarmed me. I learned of my new diagnosis: coccydynia.
What is the coccyx?
The coccyx, otherwise known as the tailbone, is the bone located right at the bottom of your spine. Although the bone itself no longer serves a purpose, many muscles, tendons, and ligaments are attached to it, including part of the pelvic floor.
Early stages of the pain
I attribute much of my pain to working for over twenty years in early childhood education. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the job, I often spent long periods of sitting in chairs made for 3, 4 and 5-year-old children. Oftentimes, I had to crouch down to their height or sit awkwardly on the floor. Even though I tried to maintain the best posture possible, remaining in this body position for a prolonged period of time had profound effects on my back.
Because I regularly dealt with back pain, I tried my usual remedies, including warm baths, Epsom salts, hot water bottles, therapeutic massages, heat rubs, pain relieving gels, NSAIDs and pain killers such as paracetamol.
I checked the National Health Service website for medical advice and to make sure I was doing everything that I should be – I was! All the medical websites I consulted indicated that coccyx pain usually subsided in a few weeks to three months.
At this early stage, I knew a medical practitioner couldn’t do anything that I wasn’t already doing, except maybe prescribe stronger painkillers. And because I only had pain when I sat down, going to a doctor seemed pointless.
As time wore on, the dull and achy coccyx pain got no better. In fact, after three or four months, the pain had worsened! That’s when I made an appointment to see my doctor. She confirmed that coccyx pain usually goes away on its own but because mine hadn’t, she diagnosed coccydynia and referred me to a physical therapist.
What is Coccydynia?
Prolonged coccyx pain is known as coccydynia.
It may result from a backward fall, a knock to the tailbone, childbirth, infection, inflammation, weight, posture, and even from sports. In my case, the chronic pain stemmed from my prolonged sitting and poor posture from those unsuitable kiddie chairs.
Treating my Coccydynia
At my first physical therapy session, the specialist looked at my posture when sitting, standing and bending. He confirmed my coccydynia diagnosis. Although little else could be done, the doctor suggested I get back in touch with my general practitioner and request stronger anti-inflammatory medications (Naproxen 250mg).
He also suggested I buy a coccyx cushion to use for sitting and report my results in a month. A coccyx cushion is a wedge-shaped piece of foam that slopes forward with a cutout section at the back. This encourages your pelvis to tilt forward, reducing pressure on the coccyx. The cut out ensures that no cushion or hard surface is situated beneath the bone.
I found the cushion provided some relief when sitting on a dining room chair typing on my laptop. However, it increased my upper back pain, as I couldn’t support my back. The painkillers made little difference for my pain but may have reduced my inflammation.
Pain management for Coccydynia
A month later, I had my next appointment with the physical therapist. Because the NSAIDs didn’t cure my pain, he advised I discontinue the medication. He also suggested certain exercises to strengthen the muscles around my pelvic area.
My new exercise regime included planks, pelvic tilts, bridges, and heel drops with and without resistance bands. I also continued to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. In the past, I would use an exercise bike, but that was no longer an option.
I visited the physical therapist three more times, for a total of five appointments. My pain kept worsening, but only when I sat down. I saw no point in attempting other pain killers, although I tried CBD oil. But again, it didn’t make a difference.
My physical therapist advised me to monitor how long I could sit before the pain became unbearable. Perhaps I could pre-empt the pain by moving before it started. At my worst, I could only sit for a couple of minutes before I felt discomfort.
Once my physical therapist confirmed nothing else could be done, he referred me back to my general practitioner. The general practitioner took blood tests to check my blood count and look for signs of infection, inflammation, or anemia. They all came back clear. I am now waiting for a referral to a specialist clinic at my local hospital to determine the next course of action.
I may have to get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, although the tailbone area is hard to scan or x-ray. Alternatively, a steroid injection may help relieve my pain and reduce inflammation.
Life quality with coccydynia
I have now been suffering from coccydynia for almost a year, and it has only worsened with time. It impacts several areas of my life. It wasn’t until a friend asked, “do you have to stand all day then?” that I realized just how much.
I can’t sit in a car without pain, which is awful because we love to travel. Because of this, we make sure to travel locally, planning our journeys with plenty of stop off points to have a good walk and ease my back.
It’s also impossible to sit in an armchair or sofa without immediate pain. When I read, I lie on the sofa with my hips raised on a cushion, holding my book above my head. To watch TV, I lay in bed with my upper body at a slant, propped up with pillows. Again, I do so with my hips raised and sometimes a double lacrosse ball under my glutes to massage the muscles and release the pain.
Unfortunately, I’ve given up my school work after twenty years. Other factors contributed to my leaving, but my prolonged pain definitely didn’t help. Instead, I work a couple of home care jobs. Because I am on the move all the time, this job suits me perfectly.
My other job, freelance writing, does involve some sitting. I now set a timer to move every half hour and plan blog posts around jobs where I can stand. A standing desk may also help, but that takes some getting used to.
Hopefully, my coccydynia will get better soon. However, I don’t like to complain as I feel there are many others out there far worse than me. I would be happy just to know if the pain is here for good or if it is likely to go away at some point in the future.
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