Because the kidney is located below the rib cage, relying on the back muscles, many people easily confuse kidney pain with back pain.
The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, located on either side of the body right next to the spinal cord, in the lower half of the rib cage and hips. The kidneys perform an important function in the body that is to filter water, toxins, acids and waste products from the blood by converting these substances into urine. Without the kidneys, the body would not be able to maintain the concentration of salts, water and minerals such as calcium in the blood.
However, its role in filtering waste makes the kidneys more susceptible to infection or damage. Kidney stones are created when excess calcium, phosphorus, and oxalate build up. As the stone grows in size, it can cause an obstruction, which manifests as a sharp pain.
The human back is made up of bones, muscles, and nerves. If damaged, parts of this musculoskeletal system can cause pain in the upper, middle, or lower back. Back pain is so common that it is more likely to have back pain than kidney pain.
There are many causes of back pain, simply overworked muscles, lying in the wrong position or carrying heavy loads. If you have nerve problems, discs or weakened bones, the pain will be more intense and deeper in the body. Patients with back pain experience varying degrees of pain on certain days. Sometimes, the back is just a little sore and the patient can still do normal activities. However, there is back pain that is so severe that it interferes with mobility and leaves the patient bedridden.
How to distinguish kidney pain and back pain?
Since back pain is a common experience, many people don’t think about the possibility that the kidneys are the real cause of the pain. It can be difficult to discern exactly what is causing the discomfort because the painful areas are located so close together. To find out if you have back or kidney pain, determine where the pain is located, how severe the pain is, and any accompanying symptoms.
Back pain can occur anywhere in the back but is usually the lumbar spine or lower back where the patient feels the most pain. This is the area that supports the most weight of the body, so it is more prone to fatigue, injury or strain.
People with kidney pain will feel a sharp pain in the sides below the rib cage, on either side of the spine. Pain may be felt on one or both sides.
The type or severity of pain varies depending on which part is causing the problem. Dull or fluctuating muscle pain. Nerve pain is often described as a burning sensation, like electricity or stabbing, that travels from the lower back down the legs and feet. Bone pain from a vertebral fracture or an irregularly shaped spine can come on suddenly and get worse with movement.
Meanwhile, kidney pain is dull, constant, or severe pain in episodes. Small kidney stones can be passed in the urine without causing damage, but larger kidney stones cause burning pain as they travel from the kidney to the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.
Spinal pain often radiates to the neck and extremities. If the problem is from a pinched nerve or a damaged disc, the pain can also radiate down the buttocks, the back of the thigh, and the leg or ankle.
Kidney pain radiates from the flanks to the groin, inner thighs, and abdomen.
Back pain may be accompanied by pain or stiffness along the spine, muscle spasms, muscle cramps, and some numbness or tingling from the back down to the legs.
The most common accompanying symptoms of kidney pain include fatigue, nausea, fever, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark or cloudy urine, bloody urine, frequent need to urinate, or pain on urinate.
Back pain is often caused by injury, poor posture, or overuse. You can easily strain your muscles from playing sports, exercising too hard, or lifting heavy objects improperly. Even sitting or standing for too long can cause back pain. Conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and spondylitis can also cause spinal pain.
Meanwhile, the kidney is an organ connected to the bladder and ureters, so there are many causes of pain such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, kidney infections or trauma due to strong force on the kidneys.
As for the back, there are many different causes, so the treatment methods are also different. Spinal pain should ease with rest or lying down. Mild back pain can easily be treated with rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, or hot and cold compresses. If the pain persists for more than two weeks, you may have a more serious problem that requires intensive care, physical rehabilitation, or minor surgery.
Nothing will ease kidney pain until the source of the problem is identified. If you feel worried because you do not know the cause of your pain, see your doctor for examination and treatment. If you have a kidney infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Small kidney stones will not need treatment and will go away on their own. Drinking plenty of water can also help with this problem. On the other hand, if the kidney stone is large, the patient will need surgery.