Difference Between Kidney and Lower Back Pain

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Published: September 6, 2013
Last reviewed: September 4, 2017

How can you distinguish kidney pain from back pain?

You can differentiate between the kidney pain and back pain from a combination of symptoms, signs and suspected causes rather than from a single symptom.

NOTE: Back pain in this article means the pain arising from the spine, spinal cord, spinal roots, or back muscles.


Difference between kidney pain and lower back pain

 SYMPTOMS/SIGNS PAIN ORIGIN
PAIN KIDNEY LOWER BACK (spine, spinal cord, spinal nerves, back muscles)
Location In one or both flanks (the area between the lower ribs and hips) or, additionally, in the upper abdomen Anywhere in the lower back or upper buttocks
Characteristics
  • Can be sharp and severe (kidney stone), dull (kidney infection) or throbbing, but usually more constant (until it lasts) than back pain
  • Changes with the body position and the time of the day
Triggers
  • Drinking large amount of fluids (in uretero-pelvic junction [UPJ] obstruction)
  • Usually not triggered by moving
  • Moving (in back injury)
  • Prolonged sitting, lying, standing (sciatic pain)
Relievers
  • No typical relievers, except treating the underlying disease
Pain radiation To lower abdomen, groin, inner thigh (in urinary stones or kidney infection) To buttock, back of the thigh, calf, foot, toes on one or both sides (in sciatica)
ASSOCIATED SYMPTOMS (sometimes)
  • Numbness or tingling in the foot or toes (one or both sides)
SIGNS
Visible changes
  • None (in most cases)
  • Visible mass in one flank (in a large kidney tumor) or in both flanks (in polycystic kidney disease or hydronephrosis)
  • Bruise (in back muscle injury)
  • Bending or limping (in spondyloarthritis or due to pain in pinched nerve)
  • Curved spine and uneven hips (in scoliosis)
Tenderness to the touch Only sometimes, and usually limited to the area over the kidney
  • Over or near the spine (in spondylitis)
  • Anywhere (back injury, muscle strain)
Palpable changes Rarely, a lump in kidney tumor or hydronephrosis, otherwise none Often, muscle tightness as a reaction to pain
More details Symptoms of the kidney pain depending on the cause

 

19 Responses to Difference Between Kidney and Lower Back Pain

  1. Vennencia says:

    I’ve been in and out hospital doctor’s.I have consistent pain between lower rip and buttock. I experiencing ths pain everyday.My wish is to know exactly what is the cause and treatment cz I’ve never get help wherever I went.

    • Jan Modric says:

      It may help to discus your problem with a doctor better if you get prepared with answers to these questions:
      1. Is the painful area tender to touch? (This speaks for muscle strain or myofascial pain; better sitting position and reducing stress may help)
      2. Is the pain aggravated by the body movements or sleeping position? (This may be due to a spinal problem)
      3. Is the pain constant or recurrent?
      4. When did you first get aware of pain and can you associate it with an injury or other event?

  2. Lori says:

    I went on a long trip
    With
    Long
    Plane
    Travel walked
    104
    Miles
    During two weeks and had terrible
    Swelling a wer 1/2 after coming home I had terrible
    Pain (sciatica) shot down my right lower back and into calf (very painful in shin) and foot. Have foot numbness. I did go see
    Dr. He prescribed prednisone. Pain is still there but not as sharp.
    What concerns me is swelling in my ankles
    Again. It is gone today. Yoga moves help. Should I think this is more than an inflammed
    Sciatic nerve or slipped disc?

    • Jan Modric says:

      Slipped disc or sciatica do not cause ankle swelling, but can cause foot numbness. Swelling can be from a repetitive mild injury from a long walk, for example.

  3. Susan says:

    I started with throbbing pain in my top left back couple of weeks ago, dull at first but the last few days it’s got to the point I can’t move with out the throbbing flooring me.
    Iv put a hot water bottle on my self warm hasn’t even helped, hurts when I breath I have a asthma clinic app tomorrow could you give me some suggestions what it could be as I have started my emergency pack of amoxicillin for any infection in lungs.

    • Jan Modric says:

      If the throbbing pain were from a kidney, its location would be at the bottom of the rib cage. Throbbing pain at the top of the back is most commonly from muscle, but it could be also from a nerve inflammation. Pneumonia or pleurisy do not likely cause throbbing pain.

      • Sue says:

        Thank you so much Jan, my asthma nurse got the doctor to see me, and your answer is right put Pleurisy was brought up I am on a course of antibiotics now plus my steriods have been increased as I do have muscle disease. So I wanted to take the time in thank you for replying to me.
        All the best
        Kind regards
        Sue

  4. andrew says:

    Just a few days ago i started to get a pain under my left ribs on my back. It seems to come and go depending on my posture and position. If i am sitting at my desk at work i can feel the pain when i am kinda of leaning on my or towards my right side. If i stand up and walk around i dont feel the pain. Its not constant just depends on my posture.

    • Jan Modric says:

      Andrew, this sounds more like increased muscle tension, possibly due to bad posture during sitting/standing. In this case you may want t have some rest from work and try to do some stretching exercises. I can’t say if it is a kidney or not – if you are worried, go to a doctor.

  5. Donna James says:

    Back in February I went to get my prescriptions filled and labs back. My family doctor informed me I had stage 3 renal disease. I was very shocked, even though I have had many UTI”S and kidney stones before,I didnt even know what this meant. I was sent to a nephrologist and had a CT scan. Now i am told I have multiple cysts on my right side. They are concerned about one in particular and are doing an MRI this coming week. I have had severe pain in my right lower back, right above my rear and it goes around to my right side. First thing I asked the specialist when he said cysts was, is this on my right side? Which it is. Can this pain be associated with this or these diseases. From what I have been reading, pain is usually about midway up your back. This pain is severe enough that I can hardly walk sometimes. I am already on a cane due to 4 hip replacements on left side and my left side is shorter than right.

    • Jan Modric says:

      Donna, kidney pain is typically located in the mid back at the bottom of the rib cage about 5 inches from the spine — the pain can radiate down to the lower back and can be sometimes felt in the abdomen. If the cyst would be a cause a pain, it would probably cause tenderness (pain triggered by touch or moderate tapping) limited to the area where the kidney is located.

      Pain just about the buttock can be, for example, from a pinched nerve due to a herniated disc in the lumbar spine, sacroiliitis, hip conditions or leg length discrepancy.

  6. CatalinaSirena says:

    Kidney infections are serious.
    I was hospitalised for weeks and nearly died. I progressed to septisemia ( not sure if that’s the correct spelling). Go the doctors straight away it’s not worth the risk. I was only 19 at the time , very horrible experience !

  7. Pat Matthews says:

    My husband has had nearly constant pain in the right side of the sciatic girdle; we are wondering if it could be sciatica or perhaps a kidney stone. We have tried massage, heat, ice, Aleve, and a few tabs of a leftover pain med, but nothing helps the pain which seems to be pretty severe for him. It is Christmas weekend, and he will not go the ER to find out what it might be. Lying on his right side to sleep and walking helps for a short time. Any suggestions other than an exam to diagnose?

    • Jan Modric says:

      Pat, where exactly does he feel pain and does it radiate down the leg? Sciatic pain is described in this article under “pinched nerve in the lower back” http://www.ehealthstar.com/conditions/bulging-herniated-disc. Sciatic pain can be felt in the lower back, but more often in one buttock and at the back side of the thigh or further down in back of the calf and in the foot. The pain is typically aggravated by sitting and relieved by walking. Two quite known causes are a herniated disc in the lumbar spine and pressure from he piriformis muscle at the bottom of the buttock. If the pain is only in the lower back and not in the leg, it may be from muscle tension due to poor posture, or injury or arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis). If he doesn’t want to have an exam now, he can continue with everything what relieves pain (walking…) and avoiding everything what triggers it (sitting, bending, driving…).

      The pain that changes with body positions and movements, as it seems in your husband, is more likely from a muscle or nerve issue than from kidney stones.

  8. janine says:

    Need to know the cure for urinary tract infection

    • Staff says:

      janine, to cure urinary infection, a doctor first needs to order urine culture to see which bacteria are causing it and then he/she can prescribe appropriate antibiotic. I’m not aware of any safe and reliable home remedy or OTC drug for UTI.

      Jan

    • Elysa says:

      I get these all the time and I drink few glasses of cranberry juice and about hour or so later I start peeing ALOT and I feel back to normal. Hope that helps!

    • Mand says:

      Anti biotics!? Never think a kidney infection can just “go away” it can kill you! It almost killed me! And I’m only 27

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