Kidney Pain vs. Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Jun 3, 2022

At some point, most of us have experienced back pain, and you may feel that you can easily identify when your back is causing you discomfort. But many other conditions, including issues with the kidneys, can cause back pain as a secondary symptom. The kidneys are organs designed to remove waste products and excess fluid from the bloodstream, and they sit just below the rib cage, against the back muscles. This can make it difficult to determine if you are in need of treatment for kidney problems or back pain treatment in certain cases. Read on to understand how these two issues may differ and when to seek each type of medical care.

Kidney Pain

Kidney PainThe kidneys are designed to filter toxins and waste out of the bloodstream. This important task also makes the organs vulnerable to infection and damage, the most common form being kidney stones. With kidney stones, excess calcium, oxalate, and phosphorus accumulate in the kidneys and form small “stones” which can cause painful blockages. While these issues may lead to back pain, there are some key differences to pay attention to.

Characteristics of Pain

The kidneys sit just below the rib cage on either side of your spine, which is where pain will be centralized. It may appear on both sides or just one, depending on the condition and if both kidneys are impacted.

People suffering from kidney-related conditions describe the pain as feeling like it is coming from “deep within” their body. While this begins near the ribcage, it can also radiate to other areas of the body, like the abdomen, groin, and thighs.

Small kidney stones can often pass through the urinary system without causing much, if any, pain. But larger stones may contribute to a sharp and intense pain that worsens as the stone moves from the kidney to the ureters. When the issue is a kidney infection, it is common for individuals to describe a dull ache or soreness that is stable over time.

Accompanying Symptoms

Symptoms of kidney pain in the back can vary. Conditions that affect the kidney are likely to result in more than pain and may lead to:

  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Painful urination
  • A persistent need to urinate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

In cases of severe kidney damage or conditions, symptoms may also include:

  • Bad breath
  • A metallic taste in the mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the ankles, legs, or feet
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle cramps

Causes of Kidney Pain

Diagnostics may reveal that kidney pain results from conditions such as a urinary tract infection, kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots in the kidney, or trauma and injury to the kidneys.

Back Pain

Back PainBack pain is very common, with around 80% of adults experiencing lower back pain at least once in their lives. While the cause and type of back pain can vary widely, any pain specifically rooted in the muscles, bones, or nerves of the back is classified as back pain.

Characteristics of the Pain

While the lower back is the most common place where people experience pain, any part of the back can be the source of discomfort. The type of condition causing the pain will affect the pain’s location and how it feels.

Muscle pain may feel like a dull ache or soreness, often triggered and worsened by movements of the muscle. The intensity can range from mild to severe, often changing based on movement. Meanwhile, nerve pain can be more of a burning or stabbing sensation that may radiate to other parts of the body. Bone pain is usually the result of a fracture or other condition that has a sudden onset, and pain often worsens in response to movement.

Accompanying Symptoms

Symptoms that may appear alongside back pain include:

  • Aches and stiffness in the spine
  • Sharp, stabbing pain in the neck
  • Difficulty standing up straight
  • Muscle spasms
  • Trouble walking
  • Numbness or tingling that spreads to the limbs
  • Weakness in one or both legs
  • Inability to empty the bladder or control urination
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Causes of Back Pain

Different parts of the back can be injured in a variety of ways. Common causes of back pain may be:

  • Straining a muscle or ligament due to overstretching, lifting too much, or lifting with incorrect techniques
  • Poor posture Standing or sitting for extended periods of time
  • Muscle spasms and tension
  • Injuries to the back, including fractures and falls
  • Damaged, dislocated, or ruptured intervertebral discs
  • Abnormal curvature of the spine
  • Tumors

Certain medical conditions may also cause back pain, such as:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Inflammatory diseases like arthritis and spondylitis
  • Shingles
  • Cancer of the spine
  • Infections
  • Cauda equine syndrome, which impacts nerves at the base of the spinal cord
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Endometriosis

When to Seek Medical Care

When to Seek Medical CareIf what you are experiencing is mild back pain, it can often be treated at home with rest, heat therapy, and over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen. However, if this does not resolve pain quickly or you have suffered a traumatic injury, you should always visit a specialist to rule out more severe causes. Most conditions that cause back pain do not resolve without the spine returning to proper alignment and may recur without this intervention.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a kidney stone or kidney infection, seeing a doctor as soon as possible is important and can help prevent more serious consequences.


No matter what symptoms you present with, the first step in any treatment plan will be to complete a comprehensive set of diagnostics to understand the root cause of your concerns. When exploring if the cause is from kidney pain vs. back pain, these diagnostics are extremely important. They will not only help your doctors to create the most personalized care plan possible, but can also be used to rule out more severe issues that need to be addressed. Alongside a discussion of your symptoms and family and medical history, doctors may rely on various imaging scans and laboratory tests to help identify or rule out certain conditions.

If there is suspected kidney pain, diagnostics may consist of:

  • Urine tests to check your pee for blood, protein, an excess of white blood cells, and other signs of specific kidney issues.
  • Ultrasounds or CT scans to look for kidney stones and other physical problems that may appear in the kidneys or urinary tract.

Certain conditions that cause back pain may not need any imaging or tests but will be identified by symptoms and a physical examination. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can also be used to provide detailed images of the muscles, bones, nerves, and other tissues surrounding the spine that can help to clarify what is causing pain. Other diagnostics that may be used include:

  • Blood tests to identify infections
  • Bone scans to rule out compression fractures or bone tumors
  • Nerve studies such as an electromyography (EMG)

Not every cause of back pain vs. kidney pain will be identifiable via traditional diagnostics. For example, sprains and strains do not always appear, even on something as intricate as an MRI. A combination of symptoms, physical exams, and your provider’s experience may be enough to identify the cause of an issue or rule out larger concerns.


Medication for Back PainTreatment plans will depend heavily on the findings of diagnostics.

If it is determined that there is a problem with the kidneys, treatments may include:

  • Medications to manage underlying conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Medication to help your body make more red blood cells
  • Special diets that focus on low sodium, protein, potassium, and phosphate; diets that limit water intake
  • Supplements and vitamins
  • Dialysis to take the place of kidneys when they are not functioning anymore, which uses a machine to cleanse the blood on a regular basis
  • Kidney transplants if you no longer have a functioning kidney
  • Kidney stone removal if they cannot be passed through the urinary tract

When it comes to back pain, there is an even wider variety of treatments that can be applied depending upon the cause of the pain. Kidney back pain treatment, for example, may require that both the kidney function and the musculoskeletal system are both treated.

Medication for Back Pain

While medication will never treat the root cause of back pain like it may with kidney problems, it can be an effective way of managing pain and other symptoms. Pain management can be important because it can not only allow quality of life to return during treatment, but may enable patients to complete therapy to an extent they could not otherwise. When over-the-counter pain medication is not sufficient, it is common to prescribe muscle relaxants, topical pain relievers, narcotics, and other medications.

In addition to oral and topical options, injections of steroidal medication is common for more severe symptoms. These can target both pain and inflammation for longer periods of time, especially in those with chronic pain.

Therapies for Back Pain

The most effective treatments for back pain are typically a combination of physical therapy and chiropractic care.

Chiropractic care focuses on identifying and repairing the root cause of any musculoskeletal issues, primarily through ensuring the spine is properly aligned. Any misalignments to the spine can cause not only direct back pain, but may also impact the surrounding nerves and have an impact on the entire body and all of its systems. Chiropractors use manual spinal adjustments and specialized tools to slowly return the spine to alignment, allowing the nervous system to communicate properly and relieving pain.

Physical therapy focuses on increasing flexibility, strength, and range of motion in any areas that have previously been injured. This can be with the aim of returning to a previous level of activity and may also focus on preventing future recurrences of the same issue. A series of exercises and techniques will be provided for use under the supervision of a physical therapist and can be carried past recovery. In addition, they may also suggest lifestyle changes or accommodations that can be beneficial.

Other therapies like massage and acupuncture are commonly used in conjunction with these forms of care.

Surgical Procedures for Back Pain

When less invasive methods do not relieve pain or there is a risk of serious progression, surgery may be performed on the spine. There are a variety of procedures for spinal conditions, ranging from removing portions of the bone to replacing discs with artificial versions. Most spine surgery has lasting side effects, so it is important to balance the risks and benefits of these procedures with your care provider individually.

Do Kidney Problems Cause Back Pain?

Many people mistake their kidney problems for back pain and may brush them off, ignoring the problem until treatment becomes critical. If there is any sign that you are suffering from a kidney problem, it is likely that resolving this issue will reduce your back pain. It is important to seek specialized care as soon as possible in these scenarios.

If your back pain does not have any characteristics of a kidney problem and you do not have reason to believe you suffer from a kidney condition, it is likely that the source of your discomfort lies in your musculoskeletal system and you should begin there. An experienced chiropractor, like those on the team at AICA Conyers, will be able to perform an initial evaluation and help determine what may be the cause of your symptoms.

AICA Conyers has diagnostic imaging available onsite as well as a team of multidisciplinary experts who can assist in not only diagnosing your condition but also creating a treatment plan. While we do not offer care for kidney disease, anything originating in your back will be addressed by our chiropractors, physical therapists, and pain management specialists. If the issue is severe or persistent, we can also engage with orthopedists and neurologists as a part of a comprehensive plan of care.

As specialists in car accident injuries, AICA Conyers has also seen our share of patients with both back injuries and kidney injuries. We are able to treat the former while referring you to other experts on the latter, ensuring that your care covers your entire body and that your recovery is holistic. Contact us today for your first consultation or to be evaluated after an accident.


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