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What is the Coccyx?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The coccyx, sometimes known as the tailbone, marks the bottom of the vertebral column in humans as well as in some apes. This area is comprised of three to five very small vertebra and is believed to be the remnant of a tail structure. Although these bones are no longer needed to support a tail, the tailbone helps bear weight and provide balance, especially when sitting or leaning backward.

A normal tailbone is shaped like an upside-down triangle, roughly situated between and below the hip bones. The name, coccyx, is believed to come from the Greek word for "cuckoo," as the shape of the tailbone is similar to that of a cuckoo's beak. Unlike the rest of the vertebra, those in the tailbone are solid and do not contain a space for the spinal cord to run through.

Directly above the tailbone is the sacrum, a wedge shaped bone that fits between the hipbones. The sacrum and coccyx are connected by joints and ligaments that allow some small movement between the two bone sections. However, studies have shown that if the coccyx is surgically removed, it causes little or no effect on overall mobility.

Because of the largely vulnerable position of the tailbone, it is subject to a variety of injuries. Pain when sitting down is often the clearest symptom of bruising or damage to the area. If you are suffering from lower back pain when sitting, you may want to visit a doctor or chiropractor to see if the pain may be related to your tailbone. Tailbone pain is referred to as coccydynia, and damage is often confirmed using X-ray images or MRI scans of the lower back. There are many potential contributing factors to coccydynia, including traumatic falls, childbirth, or activities that require excessive sitting, such as bicycling or horseback riding. If you suffer from coccydynia, the condition may be aggravated by these types of sports, or simply by sitting for very long periods of time.

There are also some tumors associated with the tailbone region. Sacrococcygeal teratoma is a type of tumor often found in newborn babies that forms in the base of the coccyx. Although these tumors are often benign, surgical removal of the tailbone is a common procedure to get rid of the tumor. If the tumor is malignant, leaving the tailbone in place leaves the patient at risk for a recurring tumor. Because of the limited complications associated with removing the coccyx entirely, it is often the safest and most effective way to remove the teratoma and prevent a recurrence.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for The Health Board. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Jun 05, 2012

@kylee07drg – I used to always get a sore tailbone when riding. The problem is that you feel every tiny little bounce of the bike in the seat, and it's like your coccyx is being hammered on slowly and persistently.

The problem got a little bit better when I added a back rest. Still, if I was going long distance, I would feel the pain a little later on in the ride.

I finally broke down and got an expensive seat that is contoured to prevent tailbone pain. It's breathable and it cushions well.

Even though it cost more than I ever thought I would pay for a seat, it has been worth it. I can now enjoy my rides without tailbone pain.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 05, 2012

My tailbone gets very sore when I go riding on a motorcycle with my dad. After about 45 minutes on the seat, it hurts just about as badly as if I had plopped down on it hard.

Once I get off the motorcycle, I have to walk funny for awhile. I feel like I have bruised my coccyx bone, but I don't know how. I didn't do anything but sit there.

Does anyone else experience this while riding? Is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening, other than just not riding?

By OeKc05 — On Jun 04, 2012

I have heard that you can fracture your coccyx while giving birth. I know how hard some women have to push, and I can see how this could happen.

My friend suffered a bruised coccyx while giving birth to her daughter. She had to take laxatives for weeks afterward just to be able to have a bowel movement without extreme pain. This gave her coccyx time to heal without placing strain on it.

This is just one more reason that I don't want to have children. People say I will regret it when I'm older, but they don't know me very well. I have a low tolerance for pain, and a damaged tailbone sounds very painful.

By shell4life — On Jun 04, 2012

My sister injured her coccyx as a child. She fell hard onto her butt while roller skating, and the pain lasted for a long time. She was still sore there a few weeks after the accident.

Today, she has lower back trouble and pain after sitting for long periods of time. I think that this might be related to her coccyx injury from years ago.

It's scary to think about having a bone like that removed, but in cases where it causes chronic or recurring pain, I think it might be the best choice. My sister is actually considering it, because she has tried other remedies that have failed.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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