The nine months of pregnancy are full of joy–but can also be full of aches and pains. Tailbone pain ("coccydynia") is a common complaint of many pregnant women, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Yet despite its sometimes extreme discomfort, pain in the tailbone is relatively harmless and will likely go away within two months of delivery.
The tailbone (the “coccyx”) is a triangular-shaped bone located at the end of the sacrum. It is composed of three to five segments that connect to the spine by ligaments and joints. The bone is capable of a certain degree of movement, which varies from person to person. The coccyx is known as the tailbone because it corresponds to the area where animals have their tail.
During pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called “relaxin,” which helps various muscles and ligaments in the pelvis to relax in preparation for labor. Relaxin also causes the ligaments connecting the coccyx to the spine to loosen, allowing the coccyx to shift. While a flexible coccyx is useful for childbirth, having it shifting around prior to childbirth can cause pain, particularly if the baby’s head is pressing down upon it.
The symptoms of coccydynia vary greatly. Coccydynia sufferers often have a sharp pain in the tailbone while sitting; the sensation may be akin to sitting on a marble, or, in acute cases, on a knife. Coccydynia sufferers may also experience very sharp pain in the tailbone while moving from a seated position to standing, or feel shooting pains down the leg. Some sufferers do not have acute pain, but merely feel a deep ache around the tailbone.
Pregnant women with tailbone pain should try to avoid sitting for long periods, and when sitting, use a cushion to lessen pressure on the coccyx. Massages of the tailbone may also help relieve pain, as can warm baths and applying ice or heat to the area. Certain yoga poses, particularly the cat position, can also provide relief, as it may help shift the baby off of the tailbone. In some cases, a chiropractor may be able to help by gently shifting the coccyx to a more comfortable position.
The non-pregnant population may receive an injection of anti-inflammatory drugs around the coccyx to ease pain. However, as expectant mothers should avoid unnecessary drugs during pregnancy, this is usually not permissible. In most cases, pregnant women should take nothing stronger than acetaminophen (Tylenol) to manage coccyx pain. Speak with your doctor about the option that is right for you.
It is difficult to prevent coccydynia in pregnancy, as much of it is due to hormones or the positioning of the baby. However, you may be less likely to experience tailbone pain if you avoid sitting on hard surfaces, or sitting for long stretches of time.