Diagnosing the Cause of Tailbone Pain

Diagnosing a problem with the coccyx as the cause of tailbone pain requires a complete medical history and physical examination as well as imaging studies to diagnose the precise cause of the coccyx pain.

How is Coccyx Diagnosed?

Physicians will perform a series of examinations in order to properly diagnose coccyx pain. These will include a thorough history, physical and medical exam, during which a trained spine specialist will check for specific signs associated with coccyx conditions. To arrive at a coccyx pain diagnosis, the entire vertebral column may be examined and a digital rectal exam may be performed.

Tailbone (Coccyx) Pain Diagnosis

Diagnosing tailbone pain requires skilled spinal expertise and a physician who has considerable experience in recognizing and treating conditions which affect the coccyx. There are multiple conditions that can cause tailbone pain. Diagnosis based on a thorough analysis of the patient’s symptoms, a physical examination and imaging tests are crucial to helping patients find the coccyx pain treatment plan that is right for their specific concerns.  Often, this requires “ruling out” certain spine conditions in order to narrow the list of potential causes of a person’s suspected tailbone pain. When it comes to accurate diagnosis, the team at BASIC investigates using every appropriate modality available until we have determined the root cause of the pain.

The History and Physical

In order to diagnose tailbone pain as arising out of a problem with the coccyx, the most experienced spine experts will first conduct a complete history and physical examination. During the history portion of this evaluation, the patient is asked a series of questions regarding his or her tailbone pain symptoms which often include when the pain began, whether there was an injury to the low-back, tailbone or other part of the spine that caused the pain, a detailed explanation of where the pain is located and how intense it is, whether the pain radiates to the lower extremities or other parts of the body, any previous spine surgery and family history of coccyx problems.

Upon completion of this discussion, the physician will then perform a physical examination aimed at pinpointing an accurate coccyx pain diagnosis. The physical exam helps the doctor rule out other potential causes of the tailbone pain, while honing in those that may indicate a problem with the coccyx. While the low-back and tailbone will be a feature of the physical exam, other parts of the spine may also be examined and a digital rectal examination may be performed in order to physically feel the coccyx to determine whether a dislocation or fracture has occurred. Some of the characteristics the physician is evaluating include muscle weakness, pain that radiates into lower extremities, pain or tenderness in the tailbone area, sensory changes, reflex changes, motor skills and other special signs.

MRI and X-Ray

After a thorough physical and history have been conducted in order to learn more about a patient’s tailbone pain symptoms, the likely next step on the path to a coccyx pain diagnosis is through an imaging study. These types of tests are usually ordered once your physician has a suspicion as to what is causing the tailbone pain, based on the history questions and physical exam. Though they can’t specifically identify nerve problems, X-rays can aid in the detection of coccyx bone abnormalities that may be causing the tailbone pain. The MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) can also serve as a useful coccyx pain imaging exam because its detailed images can show any changes to the soft tissues including the muscles and nerves surrounding the tailbone.

Accurately diagnosing tailbone pain is crucial to the development of an effective coccyx pain treatment plan. While tailbone pain diagnosis may require multiple steps in order to determine exactly what’s causing the pain, it is important to seek help from a spine expert who is skilled and experienced in effectively evaluating coccyx pain and then expertly treating it using the most advanced and least invasive methods first.

Health Tips For Tailbone

  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Take frequent walks or standing breaks if necessary
  • Use a “doughnut pillow” to sit on during particularly problematic coccyx pain episodes
  • Be Weight Wise – higher than normal body weight can put undue strain on the tailbone
  • Eat more fiber – fiber-rich foods can soften stools and help avoid constipation that can further irritate the muscles surrounding the coccyx

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