Managing pain through exercises

Nataly, Croatia -

Posted 2012-01-29

First of all, thanks very much to everyone who contributes to this website. When my tailbone started giving me trouble, I was absolutely terrified and there's so little information about this problem around. My GP and the staff at the hospital I attended for physio seemed to be pretty unfamiliar with the problem.

I work at my computer a lot, and have for years. A couple of years ago I changed my job and lived during the week in another city. Because I had the evenings to myself and had a great gym close by, I did plenty of exercise classes and was pretty much the only person in the company without back pain.

I then moved back home, and with the change in job, routine, and having a heap of stuff to deal with at home, including planning for my wedding, I stopped exercising completely. A couple of weeks after the move, I noticed a feeling of heat around the tip of my tailbone. It was slightly painful to touch. I wondered whether to speak to my doctor or take some ibuprofen, but decided against it.

After two weeks, I woke up in the night in terrible pain. I took some ibuprofen and managed to get back to sleep. In the morning at the breakfast table, I realised I couldn't move without searing, stabbing pains in that area. I was so stunned I burst into tears. I went immediately to my GP who correctly diagnosed coccyx pain but could do little more than refer me for an x-ray and prescribe strong ibuprofen and a topical painkilling cream.

Then ensued an ordeal of excruciating pain which was barely touched by the tablets. When they wore off, even when I was lying still waves of cramping pains would wash over my whole body. I was convinced that part of my spine was disintegrating into sharp needles of bone. Turning over in bed or just moving slightly would make me roar and scream. I was off work for two months.

After the first weekend it seemed things were easing off a little, so on the first Monday, even though I was off work I walked the dog in the morning. That seemed to make things worse, so I tried to rest completely.

My wedding happened a few weeks later, and I got through it with the help of a course of ketaprofen injections in my lower back, but then I was right back where I started. After a month I finally got an appointment at my local hospital for an x-ray. There seemed to be no physical abnormality, except evidence of constipation because of lack of mobility.

My husband and I agreed not to bother with MRI scans or any further investigation until I saw how physio helped. I managed to get a slot for a two-week course of physio at the hospital one month later. In the meantime I called into a small private physio clinic to ask what they thought. They found that the area over my tailbone was swollen and hot to touch, obviously inflamed. They recommended therapy with lasers, ultrasound and magnets which were applied directly to that area, together with a Thai cooling gel. I also had some back massages to relieve tension. After just one session, the swelling and heat was calming down. Every session brought me some relief, and I tried to rest as much as possible, though I started to do my IT job from home, sitting on one hip or other on the couch. That might not have been the wisest thing, but I couldn't contemplate just lying around for months.

I started the physio, which consisted of exercise in a thermal water pool, McKenzie exercises and magnetic resonance therapy. Apart from anything, it was important to me to get moving again and to be supervised so I would't do something daft. It did seem to be working, but towards the end of the course of therapy I started to feel I was falling apart again. I developed swelling and pain in my lower right arm (something like RSI), and upper back pain. It seems that I was sitting awkwardly to compensate for the tender tailbone, which was setting up all kinds of other problems. The physio gave me some exercises for the RSI and I had more massage, but I was getting desperate. It was possible that I was experiencing a reaction to the therapy, but I really needed to be able to work.

I came across an exercise studio that offers individual sessions with qualified sports therapists, using techniques similar to Pilates but also their own exercises which they call Bodywork. It consists mainly of stretching, as well as help with posture when sitting, standing and moving.

Their theory was that the inflammation I'd experienced caused the tissues in the tailbone area to cramp and seize up like meat does when it's in the freezer. They planned to "tenderise" it through stretching, as well as massage they used at the end of the session.

It worked. Stretching, especially hamstrings, noticeably and immediately relieved the pain. I went 2-3 times a week initially, and noticed a dramatic improvement. I live close to Zagreb where this studio is. I'd recommend them to anyone, the website is They speak English.

I've managed to get back to full mobility. I'm doing Taebo twice a week, I can manage everything except certain sit-ups, and the exercise and stretching at the end help keep me flexible, I feel lighter on my feet and less tired after exercising. I have a private Pilates session once every two weeks to have a good stretch, a little massage and work on my musculature and posture. I go for a gentle hike at the weekend. All this seems to keep things under control. If I skip a class, I try to exercise at home: McKenzie or Yoga both are very helpful at keeping my back flexible and keeping the pain at bay. If I get lazy, which I just did over Christmas, I'm in trouble.

I have a theory that this happened because of the large amount of time I spend sitting at the computer in combination with a lifetime of poor posture.

I read the Sarno book. I can't say it helped get rid of the pain, but I do think it is useful. I recognised myself as the type he typically encounters: the type who tries to be perfect in everything he or she does. It is possible that there was a psychological-emotional component at work here. But I think the most important point from the book is not to let fear of the pain to get the better of you. Don't let yourself vegetate. Give yourself time to get over an acute crisis by all means, but get moving as soon as is sensible, keep moving and try and get your mind off things. Give your brain a good talking to if necessary, as Sarno suggests.

It's now six months later and I still have tenderness in the tailbone area; if I get lazy with the exercises I'm in trouble. Many of my friends with back trouble of all kinds say the same thing though. You want to keep fit and stay healthy, you have to be disciplined and make time for exercise, and that's all there is to it.

Apparently when you have an inflammatory process affecting any kind of muscle or tissue, it can take a long time for pain, swelling and stiffness to calm down. You have to be patient.

Don't let this thing get the better of you. It is incredibly painful, but it is a great relief if you find that there's no physical damage. I think it's better to avoid millions of scans and hospital appointments. If you go looking, they will inevitably find something and end up treating you for something that probably isn't giving you any trouble at all, and which can be very invasive.

Avoid getting consumed by coccyx pain. It will go away. Try hamstring stretches and gentle yoga. Avoid hospitals, and consider stress management techniques too.

I wish you luck!


Update, 2018-05-20

Fortunately I have not had a recurrence of the pain despite having a twin pregnancy, taking care of two very heavy little boys and not getting any exercise!

I would say it was the stretching and pilates/physio that was the key to beating the coccyx pain, plus being conscious of posture.

I do think there is value in the Sarno approach, notably don't let the pain be the boss of you, don't be afraid, and be aware of the effect that pent-up tension can have on your muscular-skeletal system. Make sure you relax.

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