How to Tell if its Kidney Pain or Back Pain

a man with kidney pain

Your kidneys are located just below the ribcage, with each kidney positioned on either side of your spine. Kidneys help to filter toxins and extra fluids from the body to ensure the rest of your body works normally. Common causes of kidney pain include UTIs, kidney infections, and kidney stones. Because your kidneys rest against your back muscles, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate kidney pain from back pain. To help you distinguish between the two, we’re breaking down the signs and symptoms of how to tell if it’s back pain or kidney pain.

How to Tell if it’s Back Pain or Kidney Pain


Back pain can be felt at any location of the back, from the top of the spine by the base of the neck all the way down to the bottom of the spine near the tailbone. Possible causes of back pain could include damage to the nerves, muscles, discs, or any of the spine’s vertebrae. Kidney pain occurs in a more specific area than general back pain. The location of kidney pain is typically contained in the region where the kidneys are found on either side of the spine at the base of the rib cage. Depending on the cause, pain may be felt on either one or both sides of the spine. Kidney pain may also radiate to areas other than the back, such as the side, abdomen, groin, or thigh. 

Type of Pain

Depending on the cause of back pain, the type of pain may vary from gradual pain that remains contained in the area of inflammation, as is the case with muscle or ligament strain, to numbness and tingling that is common with sciatic pain. When it comes to kidney pain, the type of pain associated with kidney infections is typically described as a dull, consistent soreness or achiness. Large kidney stones can have a more intense, sharp pain that worsens as the kidney stones begin to pass. 


The timeline is another way to distinguish back pain from kidney pain. Back pain can come and go and can be triggered by certain movements like bending over or sitting up. Pain associated with the kidneys on the other hand generally remains dull and stable and is usually not changed with movement. Kidney pain also does not typically get better on its own, unless that pain is from kidney stones. More often than not, back pain will eventually ease on its own. 

Accompanying Symptoms

Generally, back pain has no accompanying symptoms aside from the pain itself. Kidney pain is far more likely to have other symptoms such as nausea, fever, vomiting, and problems with urinating or bowels. If you don’t have any other symptoms aside from back pain, the issue is probably related to the spine or back muscles, but if you have any other accompanying symptoms with your back pain, call your doctor to make sure it’s not a more serious problem with your kidneys.

Make an Appointment

At Durham Nephrology, we provide comprehensive care to patients in Durham and Oxford, NC with kidney disease and high blood pressure. Our team is experienced in kidney pain and the underlying causes. If you have questions about kidney pain, or if you’re experiencing any symptoms in addition to kidney pain, call us at  919-477-3005 to talk to a staff member and make an appointment


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