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Kidney Pain vs. Lower Back Pain

Updated on September 23, 2015
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Jan has been researching and writing about health and nutrition for several years.

Lower back pain

Lower back pain will be isolated to the spinal column area but may radiate to the buttocks, thighs, or even feet.
Lower back pain will be isolated to the spinal column area but may radiate to the buttocks, thighs, or even feet. | Source

It is easy to confuse kidney and lower back pain. Lower back pain can be dull, like an ache, and continuous. Kidney pain generally occurs in waves and will be accompanied by other symptoms, including painful urination or fever. The kidneys are part of the urinary system, so if there is an infection or other issue, urinating will become uncomfortable or difficult.

Kidneys, Back Muscles or Spine?

Kidney pain usually appears in the flank, or side, between the ribs and hips. Sometimes it is felt in the upper abdomen. Pain from kidney stones, for example, can appear on your side or in the lower left or right abdomen. Pain in the kidneys is not significantly affected by the body movements, but in disorders, such as a kidney infection, applying pressure to the affected kidney can be painful.

Lower back pain can appear due to a disorder or injury to the spinal column. If the spinal nerves are involved, the pain may radiate into the buttocks, the back or side of the legs or even to the feet. If the issue is with the lower back muscles, the pain can appear anywhere in the lower back. Both spinal and muscle pain can be greatly affected by the body position.

Kidney Pain vs Lower Back Pain Chart

Symptom
Kidney Disorder?
Or Possibly...
Side/flank pain
Often
Muscle strain, a "stitch," or pneumonia
Buttock pain
Not likely
Sciatica
Leg pain
Rarely (inner thigh pain if urinary stones)
Sciatica
Cloudy urine
Often (kidney stones, infection, nephritis)
Multiple myeloma (rare)
Blood in urine
Often (kidney stones, injury, cancer)
Muscle damage (rare)
Nausea, vomiting
Often (kidney stones, infection)
Abdominal disorders
Fever
Sometimes (kidney infection or cancer)
Cancer of the spine (rare)

The kidney

A kidney stone (dark yellow) in the ureter can block urine and create pain the sides and swollen kidneys.
A kidney stone (dark yellow) in the ureter can block urine and create pain the sides and swollen kidneys. | Source

Causes of Sudden Kidney Pain

  • Hydronephrosis is distention of the kidneys due to obstruction. A kidney stone in the ureter can block the flow of urine and result in flank pain of the urine flow caused by a kidney stone lodged in the ureter can result in flank pain and swollen kidneys that may be felt from the outside.
  • Kidney infection (Pyelonephritis) causes pain in the flank, usually on one side, cloudy urine, burning urination, nausea, vomiting, high fever, and diarrhea.
  • Kidney stones rarely causes symptoms, but stones in the ureter (the tubes that deliver urine from the kidneys to the bladder) can cause sudden, sharp pain. Usually the pain is on one side of the flank or lower abdomen and can last for several hours. The pain may radiate toward the groin, genitalia, or inner thighs. The presence of kidney stones will make the urine cloudy. Eventually there will be blood in the urine and urination will cause a burning urination. Passing a kidney stone with urine can cause nausea and vomiting. There is usually no fever.
  • Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome can cause flank pain (sometimes on both sides) and blood in the urine of women who take oral contraceptives.
  • Obstruction of the ureteropelvic junction is generally a congenital disorder that appears in children or after kidney surgery. The pain is throbbing and felt in the flank area, especially after drinking a large amount of fluid.

What can cause chronic kidney pain?

The kidneys are located between the ribs and the hips so if there is a kidney problem pain can be felt along the sides, in the upper abdomen, or mid-back.
The kidneys are located between the ribs and the hips so if there is a kidney problem pain can be felt along the sides, in the upper abdomen, or mid-back. | Source

Causes of Chronic Kidney Pain

Often, even with advanced kidney disease, there are no symptoms, only mild or general sensations such as feeling unwell. Kidney disease with or without symptoms can be confirmed by blood and urine tests.

  • Berger’s Disease causes dark urine and spasms in the flanks after a respiratory or other infection.
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease causes dull pain in both sides.
  • Chronic Hydronephrosis or kidney distention due to gradual blockage of the ureter, usually causes pain on one side and a palpable kidney (meaning it can be felt from the outside).
  • Inflammation of the Kidneys leads to pain on both sides, cloudy urine, and a low-grade fever.
  • Kidney Cysts or Cancer causes gradually building side pain and eventually blood in the urine.

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

Abdomen

Appendicitis is an inflamed appendix and can cause abdominal tenderness among other symptoms.
Appendicitis is an inflamed appendix and can cause abdominal tenderness among other symptoms. | Source

Abdominal Causes of Lower Back Pain

These conditions are often accompanied by upper-middle abdominal pain (and possibly lower-middle back pain).

  • Aneurysm or dissection of abdominal aorta (upper-left abdominal pain and possibly lower-left back pain).
  • Appendicitis nausea, vomiting, anorexia, abdominal tenderness.
  • Cholecystitis due to gallbladder inflammation, gallstones (tenderness below the right rib cage, pain can radiate into the lower right back, right shoulder blade or shoulder).
  • Constipation.
  • Diverticulosis or diverticulitis (upper right abdominal pain (and possibly lower right back pain).
  • Enlarged liver due to congestive heart failure, hepatitis, leukemia, or lymphoma (palpable mass below the right rib cage).
  • Pancreatitis (acute or chronic).
  • Peptic ulcer.
  • Spleen enlargement in infectious mononucleosis, lymphoma, leukemia with a palpable mass in the left flank (lower left abdominal pain (and possibly lower left back pain).

Other Causes of Lower Back Pain

When a herniated disc puts pressure on the sciatic nerve there may be pain in the back and numbness in the buttocks, legs, or feet.
When a herniated disc puts pressure on the sciatic nerve there may be pain in the back and numbness in the buttocks, legs, or feet. | Source

Spinal and Muscle Causes and Cancer

  • Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that affects mainly the spine. The joint inflammation causes chronic pain and stiffness in the lower back, especially in the the sacrum and occasionally in other joints, such as hips or knees. Acute painful episodes (flares) that come and go are typical for the disorder.
  • Bad posture, including sleeping on an excessively hard or soft mattress, prolonged sitting with a bent back or neck, carrying heavy bags on the back or in the hands, forced body position or movements during work or inappropriate shoes, can cause various vague upper or lower back aches, often without other physical symptoms.
  • Blunt trauma to the muscles usually results in localized pain, tenderness and bruise. Blunt trauma to the kidneys may result in blood in the urine.
  • Discus hernia is protruding discs in the spine. When discus hernia touches the sciatic nerve, pain may be felt in the back (more prominent on the affected side) and pain, numbness, and tingling in the buttocks, legs, or feet on one or both sides. The pain, commonly called sciatica, is usually aggravated by bending, prolonged lying down, sitting, or standing and is relieved by walking.
  • Fractured vertebra can cause pain in the spine and surrounding muscles, numbness or paralysis in the legs. Small vertebral fractures may cause little or no symptoms and can be sometimes discovered only by X-ray or CT scan.
  • Metastases of cancers can cause pain in the spine and fever.
  • Multiple myeloma is a rare blood cancer that can affect one or more vertebra and cause pain in the spine and cloudy urine.

Osteoporosis

Pain due to osteoporosis can be aggravated by walking.
Pain due to osteoporosis can be aggravated by walking. | Source
  • Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder of the spine and joints due to wear and tear. The pain in the spine is aggravated by walking.
  • Osteomyelitis is an infection of the vertebra that can cause localized pain and tenderness over the spine and fever.
  • Osteoporosis can cause collapse or fracture of the vertebra with pain in the spine and eventual pains in the legs due to pinched spinal nerves.
  • Pinched spinal nerves can cause pain in the back, and pain, numbness or tingling in the buttocks, legs or feet.
  • Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) in most cases does not cause pain but it can sometimes cause chest or back pain. Signs of scoliosis include uneven shoulders, shoulder blades, rib cage and hips, and left or right curvature of spine. It is a doctor, preferably an orthopedician, who can make a diagnosis of the spinal deformities.
  • Shingles An inflammation of one or more spinal nerves caused by Herpes zoster virus can cause burning pain and itch in the flank, usually on one side. The pain is usually, but not always, followed by rash along the course of the nerve.
  • Side stitch Pain below the right or left rib cage during exercise (a side stitch) can resemble kidney pain. A side stitch is transitional and goes away during or shortly after exercise.
  • Strained muscles usually do not result in bruising, but in lower-back and buttocks tenderness and pain, usually aggravated by activity, bending, and lying on the affected side.
  • Stress can cause pain in the lower back without other physical symptoms.

Lower Back Pain

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Your Experience

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    • samihipendo profile image

      Samuil Hippi 

      3 years ago from Samoah

      You did an awesome job presenting data in an interesting and easy-to-digest manner. I don`t usually like reading long articles so I loved the "Kidney Pain vs Lower Back Pain" chart you`ve made! Keep up the good work!

      Regards

    • poshcoffeeco profile image

      Steve Mitchell 

      4 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      Very interesting article. I have been diagnosed with a Bosniak II F cyst in my left kidney and it causes discomfort most of the time. It also causes blood in urine. With this there is a 1 in 4 chance of it turning into kidney cancer. My medics are following up regularly.

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