My tailbone pain led to surgery! Here's how to avoid it!

Sep 10th, 2019 Tisho Iliev and Milena Ilieva, MD
Rossen Tushev, MD - my surgeon
Rossen Tushev, MD - my surgeon (photo by Rossen Tushev)

The article has been verified by Milena Ilieva, MD, for medical accuracy.

Most of the office workers like me sit on a chair for at least 8 hours a day. Many of us have experienced a tailbone pain. This is a red flag and you should definitely do something about it. In my particular case I didn't pay any attention to the issue. One day an area, close to my tailbone, got inflamed and after I went to a doctor, I learned I had a pilonidal cyst. The only way to treat this disease is by surgically removing the cyst. My doctor, Rossen Tushev M.D., removed it and I'm fine now, but I have learnt a lot of lessons from this experience.

The term coccyx is widely used and it means tailbone. This is a bone at the end of our spine and it is pretty much an evidence for evolution. Our ancestors used to have a tail.

Tailbone
Tailbone (photo by Ted Zhu, CC BY)

A funny fact is the word coccyx is derived from the ancient Greek word for a cuckoo. The tailbone looks like the beak of this bird when observed from the side.

Cuckoo
Cuckoo (photo by Ethan Gosnell, CC BY)

Coccydynia is another extensively used term and it means tailbone pain.

In this article I will share the 2 reasons I had a tailbone pain. Also, I will propose ways to avoid the coccydynia. It is distracting to have a tailbone pain while working and it could lead to serious consequences if you don't resolve the issue on time. At the end of the article you can read a little bit more about my surgery, if you are interested.

Your office chair could be the main reason for tailbone pain

One of the main reasons for my tailbone pain was the office chair I had in my home. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize it. Take a look at these office chairs:

Left - my old chair, right - my new chair
Left - my old chair, right - my new chair (photo by Office Tip)

The office chair on the left is my old office chair - it has a hard surface and should not be used for prolonged periods of time. I used to sit on the black chair for years. Basically it's like sitting on a brick. Currently my buttocks is so sensitive I cannot sit on it for more than 30 minutes without feeling any discomfort.

On the right you can see the office chair I bought after my surgery. It has a soft seat and it is much more comfortable. Here is another shot from the side so you could better see the difference in the seat thickness between the two chairs:

Office chairs from a side
Office chairs from a side (photo by Office Tip)

My tip is very simple - find a chair which is comfortable for you and use it. This could mean a lot of experimenting - buying and selling different chairs until you find the right one for you, but that's fine, as long as you resolve your issue.

If you have uncomfortable chair at work, you should definitely discuss this issue with your supervisor. If they cannot provide a different office chair for you, the least they could do is to let you bring your own.

What types of chairs you should be looking for? Chairs with short seats which let your coccyx hanging, without any pressure at all, are a perfect solution. Also, they are chairs, specialized to people with a tailbone pain. They are either with a coccyx cut-out or with a double seat and a channel.

There is one extremely popular quick fix to the bad office chair - the seat cushions! Here is how a seat pillow for a tailbone pain looks like:

Seat cushion
Seat cushion (photo by Office Tip)

It's true they may significantly relieve your pain, but I would still consider them a temporary solution. If, for some reason, you cannot change your office chair, buying a seat cushion is the best option indeed.

A bad posture could lead to tailbone pain

Although sometimes the coccyx is described as a human part which has no purpose, it actually has several important responsibilities. The tailbone actually stabilizes you when you sit. You can picture a three-legged stool. The two legs are the ischial tuberosities (or the sitting bones) and the third leg is the tailbone. Apart from that, the coccyx has many muscles, ligaments and tendons attached to it.

Having said that, let's continue with the second major reason for my tailbone pain - the way I was sitting on my chair. Please, take a look at the following photograph:

Incorrect posture
Incorrect posture (photo by One zone Studio)

This is a perfect example of how you should not sit. In that way all of the pressure goes to your tailbone. Over time, you could do serious damage to your coccyx by sitting like this. You should rest your back on the chair and have your feet flat on the floor.

You should not lean backward when sitting.

Sitting leaning backward
Sitting leaning backward (image by Medscape)

Some office chair models are making you leaning backward because of their seat or back angle. You should not use such chairs.

People with coccydynia tend to lean forward. This removes the pressure from the coccyx.

Sitting leaning forward
Sitting leaning forward (image by Medscape)

This type of sitting is much more preferable, but you should not seat like this either. You should rest your back on the chair. The secret is finding the right office chair for you. A bad office chair will always make you sit in weird poses, because it is uncomfortable.

Other reasons for coccydynia

Besides the chairs you sit in and your posture, there could be numerous other reasons for coccydynia, as reported from physicians and scientists. It is crucial to realize what is the cause of your pain so you could take actions.

Trauma or falling on your tailbone could cause a coccydynia. If the fall is too hard, you might even fracture (break) your tailbone.

Childbirth is a typical reason for tailbone pain. An interesting fact is that women are 5 times more likely to experience coccydynia than men. The reason is at the end of the pregnancy the ligaments and muscles connected to the coccyx loosen up to be easier for the baby delivery. They might overstretch and cause coccydynia.

Childbirth
Childbirth (photo by Sanjasy)

Overweight people tend to put more pressure on their buttocks which increases the risk of having a tailbone pain. Underweight people could suffer from coccydynia, too. They do not have enough tissue on their buttocks to prevent the coccyx from having a direct contact to its surroundings.

Degenerative joint or damaged joint due to a lot of activity or aging could also be a reason for coccydynia. Cyclists have a greater risk of overstretching their muscles and ligaments because of the way they sit - leaning forward.

Bone cancer could be a reason for tailbone pain. Fortunately, bone cancer is extremely rare.

More tips for relieving tailbone pain

Many cases of tailbone pain resolve within a short period of time without treatment, but sometimes the pain becomes chronic.

As I said multiple times throughout the article, you should pay attention to your chair and your posture. What else could you do to relieve your pain?

Stretching could make the ligaments around the coccyx area more flexible and decrease the tailbone pain significantly. For more information on the stretches, please read the articles from Healthline and Medical News Today.

Stretching
Stretching (photo by Li Sun)

Massages could relieve strained ligaments attached to the coccyx and improve comfort.

If nothing from the above helps, it's time to go see a doctor. He could give you medications, steroid injections or in rare cases - propose a surgical procedure.

My story in detail

After my tailbone area was infected, I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with a pilonidal disease. The typical reason for the disease is thought to be an ingrown hair. A pilonidal cyst is a pocket in your skin, filled with hair and skin debris. The word "pilonidal" means "nest of hair". Prolonged sitting seems to predispose people to this disease.

An interesting fact is that during World War II this disease used to be called "Jeep riders' disease" because it was widespread among the drivers of Jeeps. Long rides in Jeeps on bumpy roads were causing a lot of pressure on the coccyx. This proves one of the main reasons for this disease is prolonged sitting.

Jeep from World War II
Jeep from World War II (photo by National Archives)

Being on a chair for a whole day puts a significant pressure on your tailbone area. You have to make sure you sit on a comfortable chair and you have a correct posture.

The only way to remove the cyst is by surgery. Luckily instead of using the old method - an incision with scalpel, my surgeon used a new method - a laser ablation. The surgery took 5 minutes in total and my recovery was very quick. After two days I was able to sit in my chair for an indefinite period of time. If you want to watch a video of the same surgery, you could do so from here.

Rossen Tushev, MD
Rossen Tushev, MD (photo by Rossen Tushev)

By sharing this story with you I hope I can make you take your tailbone pain a little more seriously. I didn't and I paid the price.

Conclusion

If you have a tailbone pain, you should take time and resources to resolve this issue. Do not neglect it like me! Even if you sit for 10 hours a day, you shouldn't have any coccyx pain, if you do it correctly and if you exercise regularly. Good luck!

The article has been verified by Milena Ilieva, MD, for medical accuracy.

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Milena Ilieva
Milena Ilieva, MD
Milena Ilieva, MD
A Doctor of Medicine with 25 years of experience in the field. She graduated from the Medical University of Varna in 1992. In 2009 she graduated from the Trakia University with “General Medicine” specialty. Milena Ilieva, MD, is currently based in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria and has patients of all ages, including children. She is interested in endocrinology and promotes healthy eating.
Tisho Iliev
Tisho Iliev
Tisho Iliev
An IT specialist with 8+ years of experience in developing software solutions. I have been working in multiple US - based corporations. How the working environment impacts the employees has always been fascinating to me. The working conditions, underestimated by many employers, contribute to the health and productivity of the employees and always affect the outcome of a project in a positive or negative way.
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