Some of our patients will present with sacral or coccygeal pain, and the potential causes of this pain are numerous. One potential cause of sacrococcygeal pain is a Tarlov cyst, which occur when the nerve root sheaths are swollen and fill with cerebrospinal fluid. The condition can be very painful and can affect bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction due to the location of the nerves that may be compressed from the swelling. To learn more about the possible causes of Tarlov cyst formation, you can find a lot of information on the tarlovcystfoundation.org site. Symptoms might include low back and buttock pain, neurologic symptoms in the lower extremities, pain with sitting, and swelling over the sacral area. Pelvic dysfunction including bowel or bladder changes, rectal or vaginal pain, or painful intercourse can occur. The pain might worsen with forward flexion due to nerve tension, and pressure changes in cerebrospinal fluid can contribute to headaches or vision disturbances.
Unfortunately, most of our patients present with some or all of the above complaints, so how do we participate in the process of determining when the patient needs to return to a medical provider? In addition, these cysts might be discovered as an “incidental” finding on an imaging study, and the medical provider may complete further tests to determine if the cyst is causing the patient’s symptoms. The most important aspect of screening for dysfunction such as a Tarlov cyst, which can progress to significant neurologic impairment if symptomatic and eft untreated, is keeping track of our patient’s symptom progression and neurologic signs. Getting a baseline lower extremity neurologic screen for every patient with pelvic pain or dysfunction is an critical skill so that we can communicate any significant worsening or lack of progress to the medical provider. Such a lower extremity neurologic scan should include sensation testing, deep tendon reflexes, and signs such as Babinski and clonus tests.
Patients will also present to pelvic rehabilitation after having had a Tarlov cyst repair. Surgeries can include drainage of the cyst followed by use of a fibrin glue to occlude the cyst in hopes of preventing recurrence. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons points out on their website that surgery may not eliminate the patient’s symptoms, and care involving supervised pain management may be appropriate. From a rehabilitation standpoint, these patients may or may not be finding their way to a pelvic rehab practitioner. Is there a provider in your area who may be treating these patients and who is not aware that you have skills to offer? Interventions such as pain management strategies, modalities, movement therapy, manual therapy, treatment directed to neurodynamics, and general wellness education may all play a role in helping patients recover from procedures for Tarlov cysts.
To learn more about treatment of pain in the coccyx area, you can sign up for faculty member Lila Abbate’s Coccyx Pain Evaluation and Treatment continuing education course, with the next opportunity to take the class in Torrance, California, at the end of March.