Any type of pain in the body is the sign of a problem. Back pain is a
symptom of many different medical problems, not always isolated to the
back itself. There are a number of organs nestled in the torso that can,
when suffering dysfunction, result in back pain. The kidney is one such
It is important to distinguish between back pain caused by a back
problem and back pain caused by a kidney problem. Kidney conditions can
be serious and warrant immediate medical attention. Fortunately, common
types of kidney problems have other symptoms that can help you identify
The kidneys are located between the mid and lower back very close to the
muscles of the back. They are each about the size of a fist. The top
portion of the kidneys are protected by the ribcage, but not the bottom
portion. The right kidney is lower than the left one, given its
proximity to the liver. When pain is felt to the side of the spine
between the mid and lower back, kidney problems must be ruled out.
Infection of the kidney causes inflammation; this is the body’s attempt
to isolate the threat and facilitate healing. Inflamed kidney tissue
causes a significant amount of pain in the surrounding area, most
notably in the back between the hip and ribcage (the flank) on the side
of the infection. The pain associated with kidney infection is sharp and
The best way to distinguish between regular back pain and kidney
infection is to simply touch the area that hurts. If you have an
infected kidney, your flank will be very tender and painful to the
touch. You may also notice swelling of the flank. Infections also
generally make people sick. Fever, nausea and vomiting frequently
accompany a kidney infection.
If not treated quickly with antibiotics, the infection can spread to the
bloodstream. If you have back pain with tenderness, fever and/or nausea,
seek medical attention.
Kidney stones are solid deposits that can accumulate inside the kidneys.
Stones may be large or small. The stones scrape against the lining of
the urinary tract and, if large, can block the flow of urine. This
causes the fluids to back up and enlarge the kidney.
Pain from kidney stones is referred to as colic, as it comes in waves
rather than being steady. The pain is severe and has been likened to
labor pains. The pain begins in the flank area, and may travel down the
side and into the groin as the stone moves through the urinary tract.
You may see blood in your urine if you have a kidney stone.
Kidney infections and stones are the most common associations between
the kidneys and back pain. Very rarely does a kidney problem result in
dull back pain. Cancer of the kidney can result in a tumor that, over
time, causes dull pain in the back. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a
hereditary disease, can result in gradual enlargement of the kidneys
that is felt as pain mainly in the abdomen, and sometimes the back as
If you have sharp, severe pain in the flank area accompanied by urinary
changes, fever, nausea and/or vomiting, there is good reason to expect a
kidney problem as the cause. If not, there is still good reason to be
concerned. While back pain is often not a reason to run to the emergency
room, it is always the sign of a problem. Narrowing down the potential
causes of your pain will bring you closer to resolving it.