Cycling can help improve cardiovascular fitness, lung health and muscle strength, but it also has the potential to cause tailbone pain. Without rest and treatment, the condition could get worse and even become chronic, so it's important to take action when you first start to feel pain. With a few precautions, you should be able to continue to enjoy the benefits of bicycling without further problems.
The tailbone, which is called the coccyx, consists of a group of five small bones at the base of the spine that form a triangular shape and join the spine to the pelvis. The medical term for pain in the coccyx area is coccygodynia.
Causes of Bruising
If you cycle regularly, the repetitive motion of constantly leaning forward can stretch the base of your spine and strain the muscles and ligaments around the coccyx. This motion, in addition to holding a forward-leaning position for a long period, leads to inflammation. Over time, your muscles may no longer be able to hold your coccyx in the normal position. Risk factors include reduced muscle mass, osteoporosis, congenital bone conditions, low calcium and vitamin D levels, and advanced age. Women also have a higher risk because they have a wider pelvis than men.
The main symptom is pain localized to the tailbone region, although the pain may radiate from the coccyx down into the lower pelvis and even into your thighs or lower legs. The pain is often worse while sitting or moving from sitting to standing up, during a bowel movement, during sex, or while bending or lifting heavy objects. Diagnosis is usually made with an x-ray, CT or MRI scans, or by rectal examination.
Ice is best to use right after injury. Apply for 15 to 20 minutes at a time during the following 48 hours. Heat is also helpful and your doctor may use special heat-producing diathermy or ultrasound in his office, although you can also use home treatments including warm compresses, a heating pad or sitting in a warm water bath for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. Pain relievers may help, as can injections of nerve blockers. Use a "donut" cushion while sitting and also stool softeners if you experience pain from bowel movements. Very rare cases may require surgical removal of the coccyx.
A bruised tailbone may take several days or weeks to heal completely. In cases where the tailbone is actually fractured, you may need to stay in bed for a day or two; the healing process can take four to six weeks. You can return to your normal activities when pain has improved and you are able to sit, bend and walk without pain.
A French study, published in the journal "Spine" in December 2000, showed that being obese and having a high body mass index is a contributing factor in tailbone bruising and pain. Losing weight may not prevent coccydynia completely, but it can reduce your risk. Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D to promote bone health, and use weight-bearing exercises to strength muscles and encourage strong bones.