Kidney Pain: Causes, Treatments, When To See A Doctor

Kidney pain is often described as the worst type of pain ever felt. 

Some people even say that kidney pain due to a kidney stone is the only thing that slightly compares in men to labor pains in a pregnant woman. 

However, not all types of kidney pain are the same. 

Sometimes it is described as dull and difficult to pinpoint. In other cases, it is more severe and radiates all the way to the testicles or the thigh.

Since the kidneys are linked to the urinary tract and other structures in the body, pain can adopt different forms and patterns. 

That’s why in this article, we’re taking a closer look at kidney pain to see how it affects men and women, what the causes are, what treatments are available, and when to see a doctor. 

What is kidney pain?

Kidney pain, also known as renal pain, is a type of pain that originates from both kidneys or one of them. 

The kidneys are a pair of organs in the abdominal cavity responsible for filtering waste products from the blood and excreting them in the form of urine. 

Kidney pain typically occurs when there is an underlying issue with the kidney or related structures, such as the ureter.

In order to diagnose kidney pain, a healthcare provider will take a medical history and perform a physical examination. 

Imaging such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be used to visualize the kidney structures and identify abnormalities.

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What does kidney pain feel like?

Kidney pain is a type of flank pain felt in the back and sides of your body, just below the ribcage and above the waistline. 

It is a distinctive type of pain and is often described as a sharp, stabbing, or burning sensation that may be felt on one or both sides of your body.

Typically, the pain is localized to the flank area, but it may also radiate to other areas, such as your upper abdomen, lower back, groin, or genitals. 

In some cases, the pain may be accompanied by tenderness, swelling, or redness in the area. 

Depending on the underlying cause, it can range from mild to severe and may be constant or come and go in waves.

Where do you feel kidney pain?

Depending on where you feel kidney pain, it might give your doctor clues as to where it comes from:

  • Kidney pain between the rib cage and the hips, on either side of the spine, is usually due to a condition in your kidneys with no other ramifications. For instance, it can be a kidney infection or kidney stones stuck in the calyx.
  • When the above pain is only on one side of the spine, systemic causes are ruled out. For example, it is probably not a case of polycystic kidney disease.
  • Kidney pain in the flanks that radiates down to the genitals, thighs, or groin is often triggered by kidney stones running down the ureters or already exiting the body through the urethra.

Symptoms of kidney pain

Renal pain is a common symptom of a medical condition that affects the kidneys. It can be caused by infection, injury, or other underlying medical conditions. 

Depending on what causes kidney pain, it can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, and decreased urination. Other symptoms of renal pain may include pain when urinating, blood in the urine, and/or a dull ache in the lower back:

  • Nausea and vomiting: In a patient with kidney pain, additional symptoms such as nausea and vomiting can be due to the severity of pain or inflammation. In the latter case, inflammatory cytokines reach the brain and trigger nausea, which commonly happens in severe cases of kidney infection and cases of kidney or bladder stones.
  • Fever and chills: Fever is usually a sign of an infection, and in this case, it can be a sign of a kidney infection, which can also be associated with bladder infections. Fever and chills can also happen when a kidney stone is descending the urinary tract. 
  • Decreased urination: This can be a sign of bladder outlet obstruction. When associated with kidney pain, it can be due to a kidney stone obstructing the urethra. Decreased urination can also be due to a problem with urine processing when there’s severe kidney damage and the filtering function is altered.
  • Pain when urinating: This is a symptom of irritation of the bladder, and it means that the problem is affecting not only the kidneys but also the lower urinary tract.
  • Blood in the urine: Many diseases can trigger blood in the urine, including different types of cancer, kidney stones, and urinary infections.

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What causes kidney pain?

Kidney pain, also known as renal pain, is caused by various illnesses and conditions. The most common cause of kidney pain is a kidney infection, or pyelonephritis, caused by bacteria that travel up the urinary tract and into the kidney. 

Other causes of kidney pain include kidney stones, trauma to the kidney, glomerulonephritis, polycystic kidney disease, bladder infection, and cancer.

  • Kidney stones are a frequent cause of renal pain and consist of small mineral deposits that form in the kidneys and travel down the ureter. Kidney stones can cause a sharp pain that is felt in the flanks and radiates to the groin.
  • Urinary tract infections can cause inflammation of the renal pelvis and ureter, resulting in a dull ache that is aggravated by movement.
  • Glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli, tiny blood vessels located within the kidneys, which can cause pain in the kidneys, accompanied by swelling and fever.
  • Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disorder that can cause the enlargement of the kidneys and cause pain in the affected area.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, patients will be able to tell when it is time to visit the doctor because the symptoms are different than the ordinary or feel very severe. 

For instance, patients may feel a sudden and very violent onset of intense pain that starts in the back and radiates to the genitals. 

Such intense pain is difficult to miss and is often accompanied by fever and other alarming symptoms that lead patients to the emergency room.

But even when pain is not severe, you may need to see a doctor if you have symptoms such as dull pain in your back, but it is continuous, does not calm with over-the-counter meds, and is accompanied by additional symptoms listed above.


Treatment for kidney pain depends on its underlying cause, which, as noted above, can include infections, urinary tract stones, and kidney diseases.

In most cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are prescribed to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with kidney pain. 

Other medications, such as antispasmodics and alpha-blockers, may be used to relax the muscles in the urinary tract and reduce the discomfort associated with pain. 

Antibiotics such as amoxicillin may be prescribed if the cause of the pain is an infection.

In some cases, lifestyle changes may be necessary to reduce the occurrence of kidney pain. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help reduce the risk of kidney pain. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help. 

In more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove a kidney stone or repair a damaged kidney.

Home remedies for kidney pain relief

You may also try different remedies for kidney pain relief. These do not replace medical therapy, and they only work in some cases. 

They should be seen as adjuvant therapy for patients with a mainstream medical treatment, especially if you suspect the disease is urgent or warrants medical attention.

Herbal teas, such as chamomile and ginger, can provide relief from kidney pain due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Other herbs, such as dandelion, can help to flush toxins from the body. 

Additionally, increasing water intake and getting plenty of rest can help to reduce the pain. Applying a warm compress to the affected area can relieve pain.

Finally, avoiding certain foods, like dairy, processed foods, and foods high in sodium, can help prevent and reduce kidney pain. These foods can aggravate the kidneys and cause further inflammation. 

By incorporating these home remedies into your daily routine, you can reduce your risk of developing kidney pain and find relief when the pain does occur.

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What can be mistaken for kidney pain?

Some of the more common conditions that can be mistaken for kidney pain include bladder infection, gallstones, and muscle strain.

Will kidney pain go away on its own?

Depending on the cause of the kidney pain, it may go away on its own or require medical intervention.

In cases of urinary tract infections, kidney pain can usually be managed with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, which can help reduce inflammation and infection. 

In more severe cases of kidney infection, hospitalization may be necessary to administer intravenous antibiotics.

When the cause is a kidney stone, the pain can be relieved by passing the stone, or it may require medical intervention. 

Finally, if the cause of the kidney pain is mild or moderate physical trauma, the best course of action is generally to rest and allow the body to heal on its own.
In some cases, kidney pain may persist despite treatment and require further medical attention. 

If the pain does not go away on its own, it is best to speak to a medical professional to determine the underlying cause and the best course of action for treatment.

What happens if kidney pain goes untreated?

If kidney pain goes untreated, it can worsen until the kidneys stop working or until the condition becomes extremely painful and forces you to an emergency room. 

The two most common causes of kidney pain are kidney stones and kidney infections.

Kidney stones can cause serious complications, such as infection and inflammation of the kidney. Kidney stones can also block urine flow, causing severe pain and urinary retention, which can also be dangerous and affect your kidneys in the long term.
Not solving a kidney infection promptly can trigger a more severe condition known as
sepsis, especially if your immune system is not as responsive as it should be. 

This is a condition that requires hospitalization and close monitoring with antibiotic therapy and intravenous fluids and drugs to stabilize your symptoms.

When is kidney pain an emergency?

Kidney stones often cause pain and can become a medical emergency when the stone moves through the urinary tract. This can be very painful and force patients into the emergency room. 
Moreover, in rare cases, severe kidney pain could be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. 

For example, in patients with chronic kidney pain due to an infectious cause, it can end up in sepsis and cause severe damage to different organs, not only the kidneys.

However, in most cases, it’s much less severe and can be more effectively managed by following your healthcare provider’s recommended course of treatment.

How long does kidney pain last?

How long kidney pain lasts depends on what is causing it.

With kidney stones, in acute cases, the pain is sharp and intense. It is usually very severe and may remain for hours until it calms down significantly.

Even after that, patients often feel lingering pain for a few days and up to 2 weeks until the kidney stone is finally eliminated.

In chronic cases, the pain is not sharp and develops gradually. It is not usually severe but may continue for weeks or months. 

In these cases, the pain comes from tiny crystals sticking to your kidney’s walls or may come from a more severe condition affecting your kidneys, such as a kidney tumor which may or may not be cancer, kidney infections, and polycystic kidney disease.

Does kidney pain come and go?

In most cases, kidney pain is acute, meaning it comes on suddenly and goes away after a few hours.

Acute kidney pain can come and go as a kidney stone moves through the ureters and the urethra.
Chronic kidney pain usually lingers for a very long time, with periods of reduced symptoms every now and then.

Is kidney pain dull or sharp?

Kidney pain can be acute, sharp, dull, or chronic, depending on the cause. 

Acute kidney pain is sudden and sharp. This kidney pain can radiate to the testicles, flank, or rectum and may feel like a stabbing or throbbing pain.

Chronic kidney pain can be sharp, dull, or throbbing. The pain usually stems from certain conditions affecting the kidneys’ functioning.

Can dehydration cause kidney pain?

Yes. Dehydration causes the muscles to tighten up, and the urine becomes a crystal-like substance that accumulates in the kidneys and turns into kidney stones. This makes it difficult for the body to pass urine.

Dehydration can also constrict the blood vessels, limiting blood flow to the kidneys. If the kidneys do not get enough blood flow, they can start to fail. 
Kidney failure can cause pain that begins in the back and moves to the side and front.

What’s the difference between kidney pain and back pain?

Kidney pain and back pain have a lot in common. What’s more, kidney pain is often felt in the lower back, and kidney problems can even trigger muscle twitching and muscle tension in your back. 

Both kidney pain and lower back pain triggered by other causes can be pretty intense.
However, kidney pain tends to be sharper and is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. 

Back pain, on the other hand, usually manifests as dull or achy pain and can be felt over the entire back or a significant portion.

Can the kidneys cause back pain?

Yes. The kidneys are found in the lower back, so they cause back pain when there’s a problem, such as kidney stones and chronic kidney disease.

It may start in the lower back and radiate toward the groin or abdomen. There are different patterns, and in some cases, you might not feel pain in your lower back, but most patients have this symptom, which is further confirmed by doctors tapping on your back to evaluate the exact source of the pain.


Kidney pain is a common symptom with a variety of causes. For example, it can be due to a kidney stone being eliminated through the urinary tract, a kidney infection, or a more worrying condition such as chronic kidney disease or hydronephrosis.

It can be treated with non-invasive approaches such as diet and lifestyle changes. Still, if the pain is very severe, continues, or worsens over time, it’s time to see your doctor.

Medical treatment of kidney pain may include analgesics (pain medications), fluid therapy, or surgery in some cases. 

Depending on the cause of kidney pain, you may also need antibiotic therapy, diuretics, or another method to help your kidneys recover faster.

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  1. Alelign, T., & Petros, B. (2018). Kidney stone disease: an update on current concepts. Advances in urology2018.
  2. Davison, S. N., Koncicki, H., & Brennan, F. (2014, March). Pain in chronic kidney disease: a scoping review. In Seminars in dialysis (Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 188-204).
  3. Nimavat, A., Trivedi, A., Yadav, A., & Patel, P. (2022). A Review on Kidney Stone and Its Herbal Treatment. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology10, 195-209.

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