Kidney Pain

Most people are born with two kidneys which are bean-shaped organs on each side of the middle back. In the medical field kidney pain is usually called flank pain because it is noted most in the middle back or flank area.

The kidney is a filter for the blood and works to remove waste materials. Aside from filtration the kidneys also helps with hormone and electrolyte control. Kidney pain is not in itself a diagnosis and could be a symptom of various issues.

This article will discuss a bit more about the anatomy of the kidney as well as possible causes for kidney pain.

Kidney Location

As mentioned above most people have two kidneys placed on either side of the posterior abdominal area. The specific location of the kidneys sometimes causes the pain sensation to be confused with other types of pain such as liver or back pain. It is very important to understand the exact location and sensation of kidney pain.

The picture below shows a drawing each kidney in the area where they are located. Flank pain is specifically found in this area. If movement of the muscle or massage does not relieve pain in this area you may be experiencing kidney pain. Flank pain which is sharp or doesn’t change upon movement is most likely kidney pain and not muscular pain.

Surface of the kidney location anatomy

Picture 1 : Surface of the kidney location (back side of the abdomen)
Image source :

Kidney Pain Location and Sensation

There is usually a feeling of a stabbing pain in the upper back just below the ribs. It may also be a dull ache depending on the diagnosis. At times kidney pain may be felt in the upper abdominal area. In this case it is often confused for digestive issues. Pain can radiate to the back as well as to the groin region.

kidney location in abdomen pain


Picture 2 : Kidney pain located in the Right and Left Upper Quadrants
Image source : HealthHype

Kidney Pain vs Muscular (back pain)

The flank area is an area of the back that is commonly injured in normal every day movements or during exercise. There are a few good ways to know the difference between kidney pain and muscular back pain.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions you could be experiencing kidney pain.

  • Assess your body to see if you have any other symptoms such as fever, or difficulty with urination?
  • Does the pain increase or decrease associated with  your uniation?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions you may be experiencing back pain.

  • Does the pain get better or worse with stretching or movement?
  • Is pain relieved with regular over the counter pain medications?

Causes of Kidney Pain

Renal Stones

One of the most common reasons for flank pain is kidney stones. This is basically a build up calcium residue which creates tiny stones. Although the stones are very small they have to move through the kidneys filtering system.

The pain can be quite debilitating and difficult to treat. Usually kidney stones do not need treatment and “pass” on their own, but in some cases different measures are taken to help “break up” larger stones to help them pass.

How to relate (identify) kidney stone location with pain location:

Anatomical locationRadiated location of pain
Stone in renal pelvis or Proximal pelvis of the kidney.Flank and groin
Middle of Ureterlower flank towards the anterior section
Ureterovesical junctionRadiates to scrotal or uvular skin and in lower flank.
Usually noted sensation of needing to urinate frequently.

kidney pain referred pain

FAQs :

Passing a 4mm kidney stone ?

Kidney stone less than 4mm stone 1 to 2 weeks
Kidney stone more than 4mm 2 to 3 weeks

also note : if stone is bigger than 10 mm and looking big, then surgical or medical treatment is needed.


4mm kidney stone actual size

Polycystic kidney

Polycystic kidney disorder is a hereditary condition causing multiple cysts in the kidney. The cysts can cause enlarged kidneys and lead to flank or abdominal pain.

Kidney Infection

Kidney infection is usually caused by untreated bladder infections. When both kidneys are infected the diagnosis is pyelonephritis. Immediate medical attention is needed to prevent kidney damage.

Renal Vascular Issues

Arteriosclerosis of the renal artery may bring about renal pain. It may also be accompanied by a number of other problems due decreased blood flow to and through the kidney.


Hydronephrosis is when the urine that should be flowing through the ureers and into the bladder are for some reason blocked. This blockage could be caused by various complications. Hydronephrosis can be very dangerous and has a potential to cause kidney damage. This must be treated immediately under medical supervision.

Kidney Cancer

The carcinoma of the kidney usually causes pain in the flank region along with painless blood loss via urine.

Kidney Pain and Alcohol Abuse

Although the kidneys do not directly filter alcohol, problems associated with the kidneys may be related to the alcohol abuse. Alcohol can affect certain renal hormones such as anti-diuretic hormone. Because of this it can cause dehydration by increasing urinary output. Alcohol may also raises the risk of atherosclerosis and cause clot formation in the kidneys.

Associated Symptoms of Kidney Pain

Any disease or a disorder related to the kidneys may be accompanied by a number of other symptoms such as:

Urinary tract symptoms:

  • Oliguria
  • Polyuria
  • Anuria
  • Hematuria
  • Color may also be changed sometimes.
  • Urinary urgency and frequency
  • Painful urination

Other symptoms not related directly to the urinary tract may be:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Edema of the face, hands, legs, feet or even whole body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Joint pain
  • Painful menstruation
  • Hypertension (High blood pressure)
  • Nail Abnormalities

If you are suffering from the above mentioned symptoms, then you are most likely having a kidney issues and should seek medical attention.

Differential Diagnosis of Kidney Pain

As stated above if you are experiencing any of the symptoms noted above it is always important to get medical advice. Your doctor will go through a process of checks and tests in order to decide if you in fact are suffering from kidney pain.

Full blood Count

A full blood count will determine the number of bloods cells in a certain amount of your blood. They will particularly be looking at the white blood cells because they will alert to infection.

Blood cultures and Urine Culture Test

These determine the causative agent behind infection in case there is a suspicion of renal or urinary tract infection.


A urinalysis can show various important clues helpful for detecting the main cause of an infection.

Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)

It is the X-ray specially designed for kidney and urinary tract. It is used to detect the size, position and shape of the kidney, urinary tract and ureters. It can also help to locate the stone.

Abdominal X-ray (KUB)

This type of x-ray gives a portrait of the kidneys, the urinary bladder, and the ureters. This may be helpful in finding stones and deciding the size and location of the kidneys. Other tests that help to detect the pain in the kidney include CT scan and ultrasound of the kidneys.

Treatment for Kidney pain

Diet Modification

There are various calcium oxalate containing foods which may increase kidney stone formation such as:

  • Chickpeas
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Turnips

Foods that may help prevent kidney stones and may help with general kidney issues are those containing large amounts of water or vitamin C such as:

  • Watermelon
  • Grapes
  • Organs
  • Cranberries juice
  • Grapefruits

Medical Treatment

Infections require antibiotics while other treatment is symptomatic. Over the counter pain killers can help but they should be avoided.

Surgical Treatment

If stones fail to dissolve by medical treatment then either surgery or laser is used to remove them.

Treatment is basically given according to the cause of the kidney pain. Avoid alcohol and factors that aggravate your pain.



Published on by under Pain Management.
Article was last reviewed on September 26th, 2017.

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