Kidney pain and back pain (or dorsalgia) are often confused with each other but there are several important differences. While back pain can be dull, aching and continuous or intermittent and sudden, kidney pain usually occurs in waves or cycles and is accompanied with other symptoms like chills, fever and pain while urination. At times, back pain and kidney pain can be similar in symptoms but their causes and indications are very different.

Comparison chart

Back Pain versus Kidney Pain comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartBack PainKidney Pain
Area affected Pain predominant in the back due to problems in muscles, nerves, bones and joints of the spinal cord. Pain experienced in the lower back to the left and right of spine and above the hips.
Symptoms Dull and continuous pain becoming worse with movement. Generally the pain recurs or increases immediately after some activity viz. excercise, front bending etc. Pain is severe and occurs in waves. Delayed occurence of pain after exercise such as front or side bending.
Causes Injury to back caused by mild sprains to severe cases of slip discs, cancer etc. Kidney stone, infection or any other kidney-related problem.
ICD-9 724.5 None (the code for Kidney Stones is 592.0)
ICD-10 M54. None (the code for Kidney Stones is N20.0)
DiseasesDB 15544 None (the code for Kidney Stones is 11346)
MeSH D001416 None (the code for Kidney Stones is D007669)

Types of Back Pain and Kidney Pain

Back pain is classified into neck pain, upper back pain, lower back pain or tailbone pain anatomically. It can be acute if it lasts for less than 4 weeks, sub acute if lasting for 4 to 12 weeks and chronic if present for more than 12 weeks.

Kidney pain is usually very severe and if caused due to kidney stones are known as colic which indicates its wave like occurrence as opposed to steady pain. Pain due to kidney infection is indicated by pain in flank area. All types of kidney pain are usually accompanied with fever, nausea and vomiting.

Regions of the body that feel pain resulting from kidney stones.
Regions of the body that feel pain resulting from kidney stones.
Different regions (curvatures) of the vertebral column may be afflicted with back pain
Different regions (curvatures) of the vertebral column may be afflicted with back pain

Differences in Causes

What causes back pain?

Back pain can be caused due to a number of reasons. Usually mild back pain does not require immediate medical attention. Back pain usually occurs due to inflammation. Sometimes back pain can be indicative of a serious medical condition like bone fracture, spinal fracture, multiple myeloma, osteoporosis, cancer, lumbar disc herniation, degenerative disc disease etc. Stress and dysfunctional family relationships are also known to cause back pain. During pregnancy, a majority of women experience low back pain which can be severe during the third trimester.

Causes of kidney pain

The most common cause of kidney pain is kidney stones. These stones get lodged in the ureter blocking urine flow causing severe pain which has been comparable to labor pains. Kidney pain is also caused due to pyelonephritis or kidney infection. Pain occurs due to infection and inflammation of the capsule that surrounds the kidney. Unlike back pain, both these types of kidney pain are accompanied with fever, nausea and vomiting. 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.

Treatment and Management of Back Pain vs Kidney Pain

If back pain is not chronic, it can be managed by a hot pack and a massage; on the other hand, kidney pain is persistently acute and would need a visit to the doctor.

Back pain is managed by a number of therapies and pain medications. Even though surgery is an option, it is rarely considered unless absolutely necessary. Some of the back pain management involves use of heat therapy, massage therapy, cold compression therapy, use of muscle relaxants, physical therapy, exercises, Alexander Technique, acupuncture, electrotherapy etc. Patients commonly see a chiropractor, physical therapist or Osteopath.

Kidney pain is treated according to its cause. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and bed rest for long time. Kidney disorders can have serious implications and hence require immediate medical intervention. Removal of kidneys stones might require surgical methods if medications fail to give relief to patient.


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