How Can You Tell the Difference Between Back Pain and Kidney Pain?

Reviewed on 9/10/2020

What Is Kidney Pain?

Kidney pain tends to be more dull and constant, while back pain can be stabbing and responds to rest and movement.
Kidney pain tends to be more dull and constant, while back pain can be stabbing and responds to rest and movement.
The kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist located in the back of the abdomen, just under the ribcage, on each side of the spinal cord. Kidney pain is pain that originates in the area of the kidneys, on the sides or middle to upper back. It may occur on one or both sides.

What Are Symptoms of Kidney Pain?

Symptoms of kidney pain occur in the area of the kidneys, on the sides or middle to upper back, on one or both sides, and may be described as: 

  • A constant, dull ache in the sides, back, or belly
  • Pain in the side
  • Severe or sharp pain
  • Pain may come in waves
  • Pain may radiate to the belly or groin area

Depending on the cause of the kidney pain, symptoms that may accompany it include: 

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Back Pain and Kidney Pain?

There are some ways to tell if your back pain may be kidney pain:

  • Location
    • Kidney pain is usually felt slightly higher in the back, on one or both sides, often just under the rib cage
    • Back problems usually affect the lower back
  • Duration
    • Kidney pain tends to be a constant ache
    • Back pain may subside when you move

Signs of back pain that are not kidney pain include: 

  • Pain that is stabbing, rather than dull and constant
  • Pain shoots down one leg
  • Pain worsens when you perform certain activities or movements
  • Pain may lessen with rest 
  • May be felt more in the muscles

What Causes Kidney Pain?

Possible causes of kidney pain include:

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How Is Kidney Pain Diagnosed?

To diagnose the cause of the kidney pain, certain tests may be indicated, such as:

Urine tests to screen for

Computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the pelvis to look for

  • Kidney stones
  • Problems in the kidneys
  • Problems in the urinary tract

What Is the Treatment for Kidney Pain?

Treatment for kidney pain depends on the cause. 

Patients with known kidney problems should not be treated with pain medications that are filtered through the kidneys, because this may cause further renal damage.

If kidney pain is due to a kidney infection (pyelonephritis) or urinary tract infection (UTI), antibiotics may be prescribed. 

In some cases, kidney stones may require surgical removal.

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Reviewed on 9/10/2020
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