Kidney Pain Explored

Kidney Pain Overview

There are many causes of back pain, but often times there is a musculoskeletal problem involved. However, it may be difficult to distinguish back pain from kidney pain. Generally, kidney pain is deeper and located more around the ribcage than general back pain.

One way to make the determination is if the pain improves with movement or heat, it is probably musculoskeletal. If not, the culprit may be the kidneys. If back pain extends around the sides and to the groin area, it may be the kidneys that are causing the pain rather than the muscles or bones.

The pain can be dull or an ache in one or both sides of the back, although more often, it occurs on one side. In addition, there may also be fever and urinary problems associated with kidney pain as well. Other warning signs include frequent or painful urination, blood or protein in the urine, and high blood pressure.

Usually pain occurs because the kidney’s outer covering (renal capsule) is stretched by a disorder that causes rapid swelling of the kidney or because a stone has entered one of the ureters (tubes connecting the kidney to the bladder). Severe kidney pain is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Where are the kidneys and what do they do?

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs that are right under the ribs in the upper abdominal area against the back muscles. Their function is to take away excess fluid and waste products the body produces. The kidneys filter blood and then reprocess it. They also regulate body salt, acid, and potassium. The kidneys then send the waste and extra water to the bladder to be excreted through urination.

Causes of kidney pain (also called renal pain):

The reason the pain happens is because the outer covering of the kidney, also known as the renal capsule, becomes stretched by a kidney stone entering a ureter or a disorder that causes rapid swelling of the kidney.

Here are some examples of possible causes of severe kidney pain, which must be diagnosed by a medical professional:

- Kidney stones
- Kidney infection
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Kidney hemorrhage (bleeding)
- Kidney cancer - Renal vein thrombosis (blood clots)

When is it time to see the doctor?
It’s time to see the doctor if you have dull, one-sided pain in your back that won’t go away. You should also consider going if you have fever or body aches, or if you’ve had a urinary tract infection recently. If you get serious kidney pain, whether or not you have blood in your urine, you should get immediate medical care.

How is kidney pain diagnosed?

Kidney pain is generally diagnosed by a thorough examination that involves a discussion of the patient’s history and lab tests including blood, urine, and pregnancy tests. It is also possible that a CT scan or MRI may be needed.

How is kidney pain treated?

The underlying disorder is the main focus of treatment; however, management options can include taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain, and an antibiotic if the cause is determined to be a bacterial infection. 


Although it may be difficult to determine whether back pain is simple a pulled muscle or a more serious matter, like kidney pain, it is important to pay attention to the symptoms and seek medical help if kidney pain is suspected. It is generally a treatable condition; however, the pain can escalate from mild to severe without medical attention. Both the underlying causes of kidney pain as well as pain management itself should be addressed by a qualified medical professional.


Our informational articles are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, we recommend you work with your qualified medical professional to determine what’s best for you.