Kidney Pain: Causes, Why kidneys hurt, and When to seek care
- Medically reviewed by
- Medical Advisory Committee
- Last updated
- April 15, 2022
Kidney pain can have many causes. It may be a sign of an infection, injury or another health problem, such as kidney stones. Because of where your kidneys are in your body, kidney pain is also often confused with back pain. Talk to your doctor to find out what is causing your kidney pain and to find the right treatment.
Where do I feel kidney pain?
You feel kidney pain in the area where your kidneys are located: Near the middle of your back, just under your ribcage, on each side of your spine. Your kidneys are part of the urinary tract, the organs that make urine (i.e., pee) and remove it from your body. The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.
You may feel kidney pain on only one side or both sides of your back. Having pain in these areas does not always mean there is something wrong with your kidneys. Because there are muscles, bones and other organs around your kidneys, it can be hard to tell what exactly is causing your pain. If you have constant pain you think may be caused by your kidneys, talk to your doctor.
What does kidney pain feel like?
Kidney pain often feels like a dull ache that gets worse if someone gently presses on that area. While it is more common to feel kidney pain on only one side, some health problems may affect both kidneys and cause pain on both sides of your back.
Kidney pain vs. back pain
Because of where your kidneys are in your body, it is easy to confuse kidney pain and back pain. How can you tell the difference?
- Is felt high on your back and deep in your body
- Feels dull
- Can happen on one or both sides
- Likely will not go away when you shift your body or rest
- Is usually felt in your lower back
- May shoot down one leg
- Feels more like a stabbing pain
- Gets worse when you do certain activities, like bending over or lifting something heavy
- May ease when you shift your body or rest
What causes kidney pain?
Kidney pain has many possible causes. Your doctor can help you find out what is causing your pain and work with you on the best way to treat it.
Kidney stones are one of the most common causes of kidney pain. Kidney stones happen when waste that builds up in your blood and sticks together in your kidneys to form clumps. Small kidney stones may move through your urinary tract and come out with your urine. However, larger stones can be very painful to pass, or you may need surgery to have them removed.
Urinary tract infection
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria in your urinary tract and can cause pain when you urinate. Most UTIs happen in the bladder and the urethra. UTIs can also cause a fever and the need to urinate often.
Dehydration (not having enough water in your body) can sometimes cause kidney pain. Dehydration can happen through sweating a lot, throwing up, diarrhea, urinating too much or certain health conditions such as diabetes.
Kidney infections are caused by bacteria that usually spread to your kidneys from another part of your urinary tract, for example, if you have a urinary tract infection. Women are more likely to have kidney infections because of the way their bodies are built. If you think you have a kidney infection, call your doctor — it needs to be treated right away to help prevent kidney damage.
Sometimes, your kidneys can get hurt, for example if you have a fall or accident or during sports like football, boxing or soccer. Pain from a kidney injury could be mild or very strong, depending on how badly your kidneys are hurt. Kidney injury, also known as kidney trauma or kidney bruising, is different from acute kidney injury.
Kidney cancer may not cause any pain or other symptoms early on. As the cancer gets worse, you may notice pain that does not go away in your side, back or belly. You may also have a fever or blood in your urine. However, these symptoms do not always mean you have kidney cancer — many other health problems can also cause these symptoms.
Polycystic kidney disease
Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic condition that causes cysts (growths filled with fluid) to grow in your kidneys. These cysts make the kidneys much larger than they should be and can cause pain in your back or side.
What are the symptoms of kidney pain?
Depending on what is causing your kidney pain, you may have other symptoms as well. Some of these could mean you have a serious kidney problem. Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms along with kidney pain:
- Blood in your urine
- Pain when you urinate
- Body aches or chills
- Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
How is kidney pain treated?
The treatment for kidney pain depends on what is causing it. Be sure to call your doctor if you have any kidney pain. Your doctor may do:
- A urine test to check for signs of infection
- Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan, to see if your kidneys are injured
Once you know what is causing your pain, your doctor can work with you to find the right treatment.
Pain management and kidney disease
Chronic pain is an unfortunate reality for many people and is even more common for those who have kidney disease. Watch our webinar and learn about pain management strategies and medicines people with kidney disease can safely use to reduce pain.