Kidney pain vs. back pain: Tips on how to identify the symptoms

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Kidney pain vs. back pain: Tips on how to identify the symptoms

Since your kidneys are located toward your back and underneath your rib cage, it may be a little confusing to tell if the pain you’re experiencing in that area is coming from your back or those bean-shaped organs. You can actually narrow the pain down to the source by observing other symptoms you may be having. The location, type and severity of the pain will vary depending on whether the pain is coming from a problem in your kidneys or your back.

How to know if back pain is from your kidneys

Common causes of kidney pain are mainly urinary tract infections, kidney infections and kidney stones. However, there are many other causes of kidney pain, including penetrating and blunt trauma that can result in a “lacerated kidney.”

If the pain is coming from your kidney, it will have these features:

The location of the pain

Kidney pain is felt in your flank, which is the area on either side of your spine approximately between the bottom of your ribcage and your hips and your buttocks. It usually occurs in one side of your body, but it can occur in both sides. Depending on the cause of the pain, it may radiate down the flank to the groin or toward the abdominal area. 

Type of pain

If you have a kidney stone, the kidney pain is usually sharp; if your kidney has an infection, you may experience a dull ache. Most often the pain will be constant and will often gets worse with movement or when someone gently hits the area. It will not go away by itself without treatment. If you’re passing a kidney stone, the pain may fluctuate as the stone moves. Only one kidney is usually affected in most conditions, so you typically feel pain on only one side of your back. If both kidneys are affected, the pain will be on both sides.

Kidney pain is classified according to how bad it is — severe or mild. A kidney stone usually causes severe pain, and the pain from an infection is usually mild.

Accompanying symptoms

If you have a kidney infection or a kidney stone, you may also experience:

How to know if back pain is actually from your back

Back pain is more common than kidney pain and is usually caused by a problem in the muscles, bones or nerves in your back. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, around 80 percent of adults will experience lower back pain at some point during their lives.

The location, severity and accompanying symptoms of back pain vary depending on the cause.

Back pain has the following features:

Where the pain is located

Back pain can occur anywhere on your back, but it’s most commonly located in your lower back or one of your buttocks.

Type and severity of pain

Muscle pain feels like a dull ache or soreness. Certain body movements can trigger or worsen muscle pain, the intensity of which can range from mild to severe and may fluctuate in response to stretching.

People with nerve pain may experience a burning or stabbing sensation that travels to other areas of the body.

Sciatica is a form of nerve pain that affects the back. People develop sciatica when the sciatic nerve becomes pinched or compressed, which causes a burning pain in the lower back that radiates through the buttocks.

Bone pain can result from vertebral fractures or an irregularly shaped spine. This type of pain comes on suddenly. Bone pain ranges from moderate to severe and usually worsens in response to movement.

Accompanying symptoms

Other symptoms you may experience with back pain include:

  • The painful spot looking swollen and feeling tender to the touch.
  • A muscle spasm in the painful area.
  • Numbness or weakness in one or both of your legs (if the pain is due to a nerve issue).

If you find you have back pain and can’t hold your urine or bowel movements, something is pressing on your spinal nerves, and you should be evaluated immediately.

This condition, called cauda equina syndrome, can cause severe long-term damage to your spinal nerves if not treated right away.

When to see a doctor

Once you’ve determined whether your pain is coming from your back or your kidneys, consider seeing your doctor for evaluation and treatment.

You should always be seen if you think you have a kidney infection or kidney stone.

You might be able to treat acute back pain that’s mild without seeing your doctor, but if it doesn’t get better, is more than mild pain or spreads, you should see your doctor.

Got a question, or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at You can drop me a line here. Good luck!

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