Doctor, I have backache. Is it my kidneys?

By September 20, 2016Back Pain

We have all experienced backache, but how do we know what’s causing it poi xlsx?

Kidney Pain or Back Pain?

Kidney pain and back pain are often difficult to tell apart, but there are several important differences. Although the pain can be similar, the causes are very different. Answering a few simple questions can help in making the correct diagnosis.

Where do you feel the pain?

Back pain can be felt anywhere in the lower back or in the buttocks. Kidney pain is usually felt higher up, between the ribs and hips, and sometimes even in the upper abdomen.

What does the pain feel like?

Back pain can be dull, aching and continuous or intermittent and sudden, whilst kidney pain is usually very severe and if caused due to kidney stones is  known as colic, which comes in waves and has other  symptoms like chills, fever and pain while urination.

What are the triggers?

Most common triggers for back pain include prolonged sitting in one position, long time standing, or increases immediately after some activity. Kidney pain is mainly triggered by excessive intake of fluids, or passing urine.

Does the Pain Spread?

Back pain often spreads to back of the thigh, buttock, calf, foot and also the toes in one or both the feet, while kidney pain usually spreads to the lower abdomen and inner thigh.

What are the Symptoms?

Associated symptoms of back pain include numbness and muscle tightness in foot, toes etc. while the kidney pain is associated with symptoms like fever, vomiting, nausea, swelling of the body, excessive urination, blood in urine, urine may be cloudy and may smell different to usual . You may feel the need to go to the toilet more often than usual.

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What is causing the pain?

So now you have a better idea of where the pain is coming from, but what is causing the pain? Back pain can be caused by many factors, such as injury to back caused by mild sprains to severe cases of slip discs, and even cancer.


If you have experience back ache that does not respond to simple painkillers and rest, please see your doctor for a full history and a thorough examination to establish the underlying cause.

The most common cause of kidney pain is kidney stones. These stones block urine flow causing severe pain which has been compared to labour pains. Kidney pain can also be caused by a kidney infection. Other potential causes of kidney pain include cancer and bleeding inside the kidneys due to injury. Dull aching pain in kidney can be caused due to polycystic kidney disease or gradual blockage of urine flow.

If you have experience any kidney pain or other related symptoms, please see your doctor for a full history and a thorough examination. If left untreated it can cause worsening infection, kidney damage or other health problems. If in doubt, sign into our app and chat to one of our doctors – they’ll advise you on whether or not you need to see someone.

Dr Ingrid de Beer