September 29, 2023 | Personal Injury
You can break your tailbone in a variety of ways, including in a severe motor vehicle accident or if you slip and fall. It is important to be able to recognize and identify a broken tailbone so that you can promptly obtain the treatment you need after an accident.
What is a Tailbone?
The tailbone is also known as the coccyx. It is part of the spine and consists of three to five vertebrae that are fused together.
When intact, the tailbone serves a few essential functions:
- It helps stabilize you.
- It helps support your weight when you sit down.
- It serves as a hub, connecting multiple tendons, ligaments, and muscles in your body.
What Causes a Broken Tailbone?
A tailbone injury can be caused in a variety of settings. Slipping on a spill at a grocery store or on ice on the sidewalk can cause a tailbone to fracture. A workplace injury, particularly where heavy machinery or other high-risk activities are involved, is another likely cause. One of the most frequent causes of a broken tailbone is a car accident.
The force of the collision, or being slammed against the car, can cause a broken tailbone. Even if one is wearing a seat belt, one might be lifted up and slammed down upon impact, and the force of the impact alone can cause one’s tailbone to break.
What Are the Symptoms of a Broken Tailbone?
If you have experienced an accident, you can identify tailbone trauma if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Lower back pain: You may experience pain or tenderness in your lower back, including the area immediately above the buttocks.
- Difficulty sitting: You may feel sharp pain or numbness while sitting.
- Bruising and swelling: You may notice a bruise or swelling on the area around the base of the spine.
- Loss of bladder control or painful bowel movements: Experiencing such challenges in the restroom is not a conclusive sign, but it may suggest a broken tailbone.
- Numbness in the legs: If the broken tailbone causes nerve damage in the spine or surrounding areas, one might experience a loss of sensation in the legs.
If you have even one of these symptoms, you should go to an emergency room or urgent care and try to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosing a Broken Tailbone
If you are experiencing the symptoms above, a doctor may conduct scans to confirm that you have fractured your tailbone.
Some common scans include:
- X-ray: An X-ray generates a static image of one’s bones.
- CT (computed tomography) scan: a CT scan combines several X-rays to generate a three-dimensional model.
A CT scan provides more detailed information than an X-ray.
How Long Does a Broken Tailbone Take to Heal?
A tailbone injury can take weeks or even months to heal, depending upon the severity of the injury. A bruise can take up to four weeks to heal, while a fracture can take 8 to 12 weeks to heal.
It is rare – but not impossible – that individuals with a broken tailbone never recover. Depending on whether the fracture causes a spinal cord injury, having a broken tailbone may lead to permanent paralysis.
Treating and Recovering from a Broken Tailbone
Someone who has suffered a broken tailbone should consult a doctor as soon as possible to understand the best route toward recovery.
However, healthcare providers generally recommend that people with a broken tailbone take the following steps to promote recovery:
- Rest and avoid physical activity that causes pain
- Apply ice to the region for about 20 minutes every hour while awake for the first 48 hours, then 2 to 3 times a day
- Avoid sitting frequently or for extended periods of time
- Sit on a cushion or gel donut, which can be found at many drugstores
- Lie on one’s belly while sleeping to reduce pressure on the tailbone
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), may help people live with the pain. Even though these are available over the counter, it is helpful to speak with a doctor about possible side effects and interactions with other medications. If you have heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding, you should consult a doctor before taking these medications.
In more severe cases, prescribed steroid injections may provide needed relief. If a broken piece of tailbone is causing pain and discomfort, surgery may be an option starting six months after the injury. If you have a more severe instance of a broken tailbone, consult a doctor to determine what is appropriate in your case.