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How to Tell the Difference Between Kidney Pain and Back Pain

back painIt can be hard to know sometimes whether the pain you’re experiencing is kidney pain or back pain. After all, the kidneys are located toward the back and underneath the ribcage. But, kidney pain is usually felt in what is called the flank, which is the area on either side of your spine, between the bottom of your ribcage and your hips. And it usually occurs on just one side of your body or the other, though it can sometimes occur on both sides.

Kidney Pain

Kidney pain is most often caused by a kidney infection, or a stone in the tubes coming out of the kidney. The pain is usually sharp if you have a kidney stone and a dull ache if you have an infection. And, more often than not, it will be a constant pain. It won’t either get worse with movement or go away by itself without treatment.

Also, keep in mind that if you are passing a kidney stone, the pain may increase or decrease as the stone moves. Sometimes this pain can spread to the inner thigh or lower abdomen.

Unlike back pain, kidney pain usually won’t change with movement.

Other symptoms

If you have a kidney infection or a kidney stone, you may also experience:

  • fever and chills
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue


Back Pain

Back pain is more common than kidney pain and is usually caused by a problem in the muscles, bones, or nerves in the back. And, though back pain can occur anywhere on the back, it’s most commonly located in the lower back or one of the buttocks.

Signs that you have back pain rather than kidney pain include:

  • The pain shoots down one leg
  • It’s more likely to be stabbing than dull and constant
  • Gets worse or flares up when you do certain activities, like lifting or bending over
  • When you rest or lie down, the back pain may ease up


If you’re experiencing pain and you’re not sure whether it’s back or kidney pain, if it hasn’t resolved in a day or two, it’s worth a visit to your primary care physician. If you aren’t able to get a timely appointment, consider urgent care to determine the source.

*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery