Tailbone scans 101: coccyx medical imaging & more
At some point or another, we've all tripped, slipped, or fallen in such a way that made us feel shooting pain in our tailbone. Injuring your coccyx is a painful experience, and we feel the effects for days to come. But how do we know if the damage is severe or if it will be able to heal on its own?
A tailbone scan can show if there has been damage that needs to be addressed. Find out the types of scans available and the common causes of tailbone pain other than injury.
What is the tailbone?
The tailbone is a section of 3 to 5 fused vertebrae at the end of your spine. It sits just beneath the sacrum, another fused bony structure situated at the end of the lumbar spine. Since the tailbone vertebrae are fused, they have minimal independent movement compared to the spine's other vertebrae.
Although small, this structure is the main connection point for many ligaments, tendons, and muscles (particularly of the pubic floor). It also plays a vital role in weight-bearing and stability while sitting.
Why do I need a tailbone scan?
If you've ever experienced a significant fall where you landed on your tailbone, you know that the pain can be very intense. Even a tiny bruise can feel like you have fractured your coccyx.
If you’ve injured your tailbone or are experiencing ongoing or worsening pain, you might need a tailbone scan. This area is sensitive, and it can be hard to differentiate if the pain is from a bone bruise, a fracture, or another severe injury.
Common causes of coccyx pain
The most common cause of tailbone pain is from damage or excessive overuse. For example, sitting for extended periods can put a lot of pressure on your tailbone. Pain in your tailbone is known as coccydynia. There are three common causes:
- Direct injury (e.g. falling)
- Repetitive stress (think biking)
Damage or excessive overuse can cause inflammation, pain, and pressure at the tip of the tailbone. It usually gets worse when you are trying to sit. However, not all pain in your coccyx is coccydynia. Pain caused by fractures, cysts, or infection can mimic coccydynia signs.
Medical imaging scans for tailbone pain
The type of tailbone scan you need will depend on your symptoms and/or the cause of your injury.
A tailbone MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to generate images of the coccyx across three planes:
- Axial: from the top down
- Sagittal: from one side to the other
- Coronal: from front to back
Together, these pictures create a 3D image of the tailbone. A radiologist (a doctor specializing in reading diagnostic scans) will be able to identify any causes of pain. Although an MRI can’t see coccydynia, it can still show swelling of the area.
CT scans of the tailbone
A tailbone X-ray uses a mild form of radiation to take images of the bones and other tissues of the body. An X-ray is primarily used to identify bone fractures, chips, or tumors.
X-rays are often used for recent falls and accident injuries because they are quick and can show bone damage. These immediate results mean the correct medical interventions can be applied to get you on the road to recovery.
How long does a tailbone scan take?
The length of time it takes to image a tailbone again depends on the type of scan. X-rays are quick, taking only about 15 minutes. On the other hand, MRIs take longer and can last for up to 45 minutes.
Find a tailbone medical imaging center near me
If you need a tailbone scan but don’t know where to get one, check out scan.com’s scan search tool. Our comprehensive list of reputable medical imaging centers makes it quick and easy to find a scanning location near you.