Alternative Names coccyx injury, coccyx fracture, tailbone fracture
Definition Tailbone trauma is any injury that occurs to the coccyx or tailbone, which is found at the base of the spine.
What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? Tailbone trauma can cause:
difficulty with bowel movements
difficulty rising from a sitting position
What are the causes and risks of the injury? Usually this injury occurs when a person falls backward onto the tailbone and lands on a hard surface. This happens more often to elderly people. It is also more likely to occur when walking on very slick surfaces, such as a wet or polished floor or ice.
Generally, the tailbone is not fractured. The pain is caused by bruising.
What can be done to prevent the injury? To prevent such an injury, a person should:
avoid walking on very slippery surfaces
be careful on ice
A person who is elderly or prone to falls should:
avoid any slippery surface
make sure there is something to hang onto. Use a cane or walker, if needed.
wear shoes with soles that provide good traction
How is the injury recognised? A tailbone injury is usually diagnosed when a person reports a fall and the doctor examines him or her.
What are the treatments for the injury? Usually there is no spinal cord injury. If one is suspected, however, caution must be taken in moving the person and it should not be done unless the appropriate medical personnel are available.
If a spinal cord injury is not suspected and the person has been seen by a doctor, it may be helpful to:
apply ice or cool compresses to the area
use a rubber, air-filled donut that will take the pressure off the coccyx when sitting
A tailbone injury can cause constipation. Because of pain in this area, some people have trouble moving their bowels. They may be able to defecate with pain. Stool softeners, such as coloxyl, a high fibre diet, lots of fluids, and analgesia to help the person move can minimise constipation.
What are the side effects of the treatments? There are no side effects with tailbone trauma.
What happens after treatment for the injury? Unfortunately, a tailbone injury can take quite a while to heal. Some people do not completely recover for 6 to 8 weeks or even longer.
While healing, it is essential to avoid taking other falls that would injure this area again and lengthen the recovery time.
Author: James Broomfield, MD Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/10/2004 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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