Kidney Pain vs Back Pain: Know the Difference

By Dr. Jatin Kothari in Nanavati Max Institute of Renal Sciences & Transplant , Kidney Stone Clinic

Apr 24 , 2023 | 9 min read

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs that form a part of the excretory system. The kidneys are responsible for purifying the blood of various wastes and toxins which are then thrown out of the body along with the urine. The kidneys also regulate various metabolic activities that are vital for our existence. These are located on either side of the lower back, just below the rib cage which means that if anything is wrong with your kidneys, the pain is likely to radiate to your lower back. This is the reason why a lot of people mistake kidney pain for back pain and viceversa. Reports given by the best hospital in India have shown that a lot of patients who come to the hospital complaining of back pain have been found to be suffering from kidney stones which are the most common cause of kidney pain.

What Exactly are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones, also known as renal calculi,are solid deposits or clumps formed by the accumulation of dissolved minerals like calcium oxalate and struvite in the inner lining of the kidneys. The size of these stones vary and these can be as large as a golf ball. Smaller stones usually go unnoticed and pass out of the body along with the urine whereas larger stones can get stuck in the urinary tract and need to be removed surgically. Treatment for kidney stones is offered at all the leading urology hospitals in Mumbai.

There are certain risk factors that can increase your vulnerability to developing kidney stones. These include:

  • A family or personal history of kidney stone. If you have already had kidney stones in the past, there are slightly raised chances of developing them in future as well.
  • Dehydration too can increase the risks of kidney stones which is the reason why people living in warm areas are at a higher risk of developing these.
  • Excess intake of proteins, salt and sugar can elevate the levels of calcium in your kidneys thereby increasing the risks of kidney stones.
  • Obese people too fall in the risk category.


Also Read About Types of Kidney Diseases

Causes of Kidney Pain

Research has found that almost 42% of Indian people are somehow struggling with backaches. As mentioned earlier, there can be multiple underlying causes, including kidney problems. These are slightly different from regular musculoskeletal back pain. The primary reasons for kidney pain are:

  • Kidney Stones
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
  • Blood Clotting
  • Infections
  • Injury to the organ

Causes of Back Pain:

Likewise Kidney pain, there can be multiple causes for musculoskeletal back pain. Our daily routine, nature of work, sleeping postures, everything can contribute to the issue. The primary reasons can be:

  • Bad postures
  • Stress and strain on Back muscles
  • Standing or sitting in a position for long periods of time
  • Injuries
  • Damage or dislocation of the Prolapsed Intervertebral Disc
  • Spine tumours
  • Abnormal curvature of the spine

Kidney Pain vs Back Pain

Kidney stones can be very painful. These can pass into the ureter and block the passage of urine, leading to urinary obstruction. This can result in a chronic kidney infection. The patient is likely to experience pain and discomfort on one side of the lower back or both sides. Sometimes the pain can even radiate to the lower abdomen and inner thighs. It is pertinent to note that back pain is not the only symptom of kidney stones and this may be accompanied by other symptoms which can help you to figure out whether your back pain is indicating kidney stones or not. Some of the common symptoms as listed by the best kidney specialist in Mumbai include:

  • Traces of blood in the urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pungent smelling urine
  • Cloudy and dark urine
  • Fluctuating body temperature
  • Cold sweats and chills
  • Frequent urination
  • Passing small amounts of urine


Back pain, on the other hand, is a result of some musculoskeletal disorder or disease and can be experienced in any part of the back. Although nerve pain can radiate to the lower limbs, muscle pain is usually localized. Back pain can range from acute to chronic and can get worse with movement. Back pain is usually associated with the following symptoms:

  • Swollen or tender spot on the back
  • Muscle spasm
  • Weakness or numbness in the lower limbs
  • Stiffness in the back


You can find the best doctors in Mumbai for treating both kidney stones as well as back pain and kidney transplant, however, it is important to recognize the symptoms and choose the right doctor accordingly.


Kidney Pain

Back pain


On the lower back abdomen area and usually on one side. It rarely occurs on both sides.

Usually around the lumbar region, but it can also be felt throughout the entire back.

Radiation of pain

It may radiate to the inner thigh or lower abdomen.

It may radiate to the buttocks, back of thighs, laterally to legs and ankles too.

Type of pain

When the reason for pain is stones, you will experience steep pain. Whereas the infections cause dull aching.

Often it is not constant. The backache comes and goes.

Things that make it better or worse

Appropriate treatment is the only option to deal with it. Keeping it untouched makes the condition worse.

It generally goes off with rest, general medications, and the application of heat. Leaving the problem unresolved can worsen the condition.

The severity of the pain

Kidney pain can vary depending on the cause. It can be mild or sometimes severe too.

It is not severe.

Also Read About Diet Chart for kidney patients

How to Identify Kidney Pain?

Kidney pain is felt in the flank. Flank is the section located on either side of the spine in between the lower area of the hips and rib cage. The pain can also take place in the lower back, abdomen, and groin.
Although pain takes place on one side of the body, sometimes it can also occur on both sides. Besides that, kidney pain mainly occurs when you have a kidney stone. When you pass a stone, the pain might alter as the stone moves. For conditions like "polycystic kidney disease," you might experience a period of severe pain.

Type of Pain: People with kidney stones experience severe and sharp pain in the abdomen area. If the backache is caused by stones, it will lead to sharp pain at the back area. Alongside conditions like Urinary Tract Infection can also cause kidney pain.

Radiation of the pain: The pain may radiate to the inner thigh or lower abdomen.

Severity of Pain: Kidney pain can vary depending on the cause. It can be mild or and sometimes severe too. Stones cause severe steep pain, whereas infections lead to dull aching.

Things that make it Better or Worse: As far as kidney pain is concerned, treatment is the only option. Leaving it untreated will always worsen the condition.

Kidney Pain Treatment

The treatment very much lies on the cause of the pain. If the pain is occuring due to infection, the doctor may suggest you some antibiotics. Whereas, pain caused by stones would require surgical treatment where the stones are removed surgically.

When to see a Doctor

Identifying early signs and getting medical attention early is a smart way to deal with it. If you experience fever or chills, nausea or chills, oddly coloured pee, pain while peeing, blood in your pee, too frequent urination, solid substances in your urine, and lethargy, you better consult a doctor.

How to Identify the Back Pain?

Experts say that back pain is a lot more common when compared to kidney pain. It's because the back pain occurs when you have issues with the nerves, bones, or muscles in the back section.

Location: This type of pain can take place anywhere in the back section, and it mostly occurs in the buttocks or around the lower back area. Along with this, there are certainly different types of back pain that a person gets to experience.

Severity of Pain: Muscle pain on the other hand will feel like a throbbing ache. When the nerve is injured or it's irritated, the pain will feel like a sharp burning sensation, which travels to the bottom and then to the foot or lower leg.

Radiation of Pain: Muscle pain is said to affect both sides of the body. But when it comes to nerve pain, it only occurs on one side. It can radiate to the buttocks, back of thighs, laterally to legs and ankles too.

Back Pain Treatment

Usually back pain goes with rest. If it does not go away, your doctor will recommend medications or therapies depending on your condition. If you are having a chronic backache issue, therapies and medications are necessary. Else, home remedies and proper rest are enough.

When to see a Doctor

If you have been continuously struggling with the condition, do not hesitate talking to a doctor. Any injury, continuous pain, back pain with numbness in legs, pain with fever, and back pain with weakness are alarms that you need to see a doctor.

Summing Up

The information related to kidney and back pain will give you a clear understanding of why exactly they take place. You will also find information on how back pain is linked with kidney stones. Make sure to contact the doctor when you experience any of these symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does back pain caused by kidneys feel like?

Kidney pain occurs in the flank. It is the section located on either side of the spine in between the lower area of the hips and rib cage. Often you will feel a constant, dull ache in your back. Further, you may experience pain under your ribcage, in your sides, and in your abdomen.

What part of your back hurts from kidneys?

Kidney pain mostly affects the upper back and it often feels deeper. It feels around the right or left of the spine, under the ribcage, and on the lower back abdomen area and usually on one side. It rarely occurs on both sides.

What are the first signs of kidney problems?

Though you may confuse the symptoms with other chronic or mild health issues, the following symptoms can be an alarm that your kidneys need attention:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep issues
  • Constant dull ache
  • Pain under your ribcage
  • Sharp and severe pain
  • Nausea
  • Excessive laziness
  • Irregularity in urination
  • Frequent muscle cramps
  • Decreased mental alertness
  • Loss of appetite


How do I know if my back pain is kidney related?

Many people mistake kidney pain with general backache. Avoiding the issue will only increase the trouble; therefore, it is important to identify it. The major difference is the location and type of pain. Kidney pain feels higher and deeper on the back area than backache. It is often felt under your ribcage.

How to tell the difference between kidney pain and back pain?

It is very easy to get confused between kidney pain and back pain. However, the epicentre of kidney pain is the area where the organ is situated. You will experience a dull ache around your belly, back, and in your sides. Whereas back pain affects the lower back.

How do you test for kidney pain?

When you experience any of the symptoms related to kidney pain or infection, consult with a doctor. They will ask you to provide a urine sample. Blood or pus in your urine will determine infection. Whereas kidney stones will require other tests like imaging or ultrasound, urine test, blood test, and analysis of passed stones.