After hours of sitting on your big, squishy sofa, binge-watching the latest Netflix series, you attempt to get up but then feel a sharp aching pain in your tailbone. It feels as though you can’t straighten out your hips and lower back to walk normally, so you hobble along hunching with a bent knee gait and clutching your buttocks. It hurts to walk but the thought of sitting back down again makes you cringe!
You are likely experiencing tailbone pain, more technically called coccydynia- which means coccyx pain. The coccyx is a little group of small, fused vestigial vertebrae that is attached to the sacrum with a cartilaginous joint which gives it some limited mobility, forward and backward and side to side. The coccyx naturally bends forward to allow us to sit comfortably, and it shares some of the weight that our sit- bones bear ( the sit bones are formally called the ischial bones, the bottom part of our pelvic bones). The coccyx is surrounded and supported by ligaments and the perineal and pelvic floor muscles.
A typical cause of tailbone pain can be from sitting for long periods, in fact, soft chairs can be worse than hard chairs because we tend to slouch more while sitting in them, putting more pressure on the coccyx as it gets jammed in the flexed position, and doesn’t revert back to neutral quickly enough when standing up. The coccyx can also become painful by repetitive stress irritations from sports like cycling and rowing. Falling on the buttocks can result in a fracture, so a strong, prolonged pain may need a visit to your doctor for diagnosis. Other, more rare causes of coccydynia can be due to tumours and cysts.
Childbirth is one of the next common causes of tail bone pain for women. The body prepares for labour in the late stages of pregnancy by releasing hormones that encourage loosening of joint ligaments to allow for the widening of the birth canal. Ligaments surrounding the coccyx can easily be overstretched and damaged, and the muscles can become strained.
So, what can you do for yourself when you are experiencing coccydynia?
Having balanced and reasonably flexible hips will help prevent coccyx malfunction in most cases; A particularly good stretch is the piriformis stretch. Here, you are lying on your back with your knees up and feet on the floor to begin with. On the side you want to stretch, lift your leg and cross it over so the outside of your heel is resting on your opposite knee. Then, using your arms, lift the other leg towards your chest. You can hold this stretch for up to a minute or more, it should feel good- no straining! Take long slow breaths in and out and feel your glute muscles melt and spread. Repeat for the other side.
In Yoga, there is a position called the Root Lock used to engage the lower portion of your core, it is similar to Kegels in that it targets the pelvic floor muscles. Sit comfortably on a cushion with your legs crossed, sitting upright with your hands on your knees, imagine your pelvic floor lifting and tightening, like an unfurled parachute being held up like a trampoline by a circle of people- hold this engagement of the pelvic floor, imagine it lifting up towards your belly between the columns of your spine and rectus abdominus muscle ( aka the ‘six-pack muscle’ -and yes, you have one even if you swear you don’t!) Hold this rising sensation for a count of four, then lower for a count of four. Slow and controlled is the key! Repeat this 5-10 times and you can do these exercises anytime, two to three times a day.
And lastly, this is a great one; using a tennis ball and a hard chair, place the tennis ball in the centre of the chair and using your arms to support yourself, gently lower yourself onto the ball. The ball should be positioned between just the front, or tip, of the tailbone and your sit bone on one side. Hold this position until the tennis ball hatches (kidding!) Seriously, hold it until you feel the soft tissues relax and soften, maybe a minute or two. Then you can gently lift up, and lower yourself onto the opposite side, and relax onto the ball for another minute or two.
If you have been experiencing pain in the tailbone, try these exercises, they may help, but if pain persists and is severe, or if it is accompanied by numbness or weakness, contact your health professional for a more thorough examination.