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The coccyx—or tailbone—is the last bone of the vertebral column, and usually consists of three to five fused vertebrae that connect with the sacrum, a part of the pelvis.
The coccyx consists of fused vertebrae, which are not flexible like the other vertebrae of the vertebral column which are all interspaced by intervertebral disks and joined together by elastic ligaments. Since the spinal cord ends just before the coccyx begins, coccygeal vertebrae also lack a central foramen (hole). In the coccyx, the vertebrae generally fuse together in early adulthood and may also fuse with the sacrum, the bone located between the 5th lumbar vertebra and the coccyx, as a person ages. In males, the coccyx curves downward, and in females, it is straighter to allow a baby to pass through the birth canal without impediment.
Pain in or around the coccyx is called coccydynia or coccygodynia. Coccydynia presents a range of symptoms associated to a variety of underlying causes and conditions.
Coccydynia can be caused by a number of factors. Usually, patients report pain after a fall onto their buttocks, as occurs when going down stairs or while skating. Others have pain during pregnancy or after childbirth. Some experience repetitive strain from rowing or cycling, and some cite anal intercourse as the cause of pain. In many cases, pain derives from a malformation of the coccyx itself. Sometimes bony spurs appear on the coccyx, but only seem to be painful in thin patients who do not have the padding to protect the region from the spur.
Other causes of coccydynia include cancer or damage to the sacrum that generates referred pain, meaning pain that appears in one region but originates from another. Muscle strain or tension, pinched nerves or damaged nerves, or dislocation of the coccyx due to gross obesity are other causes.
Author Info: Janie Franz, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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