Kidney Pain: 7 Common Causes & How to Treat It

Updated in February 2022

Kidney pain can indicate different health problems, like changes to kidney function, injection or spinal problems, It can occur with other symptoms like pain, changes to urine color and burning with urination. 

Treatment for pain should be done in accordance with the cause, and can include the use of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, rest and massage. 

The following is a list of the main causes of kidney pain and how to relieve the pain and treat the problem:

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1. Kidney stones

The presence of kidney stones can cause intense pain that can radiate to the stomach or genitals, pain with urination, and urine that is pink, red or brown, due to the presence of blood. 

How to treat: Treatment depends on the type of kidney stone present. It can include the use analgesics, diet changes, or laser treatment to reduce the stone to smaller pieces, allowing it to be easier eliminated through the urine. 

2. Infection

Symptoms of a kidney infection include strong pain in the lower back, frequent urination, or urine with a strong odor. In some cases, you may also experience fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. 

How to treat: You should increase your fluid intake greatly to help eliminate the bacteria causing the pain. The bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, as prescribed by a doctor. 

3. Single cyst or polycystic kidney 

Symptoms of a kidney cyst appear when the cyst is already large. It can cause pain, urine with blood, high blood pressure and frequent UTIs.

How to treat: Treatment should be guided by your doctor, and can be completed with medication when the cyst is small. Surgery may be indicated for the removal of larger cysts. 

4. Cancer

Pain caused by kidney cancer normally appears in its advanced stages. It is characterized by pain on sides of abdomen and in the back, as well as blood in the urine. 

How to treat: Treatment is completed with a medical oncologist and will depend on the tumor stage. It may include surgery, cryotherapy, the use of ultrasound and the use of medication to relieve symptoms. Renal tumors normally do not respond well to chemotherapy or radiation. 

5. Hydronephrosis 

This is a swelling of the kidney due to the accumulation of urine. It causes pain in the lower back, blood with urine, fever and chills. 

How to treat: You should see your doctor to remove the accumulated urine from the kidney and identify the underlying cause, which may be kidney stones, a severe UTI or a kidney tumor. 

6. Renal vein thrombosis or ischemia 

When blood flow to the kidney is compromised, it can cause cellular death and pain. It is similar to what happens during a stroke or heart attack

How to treat: Medical testing can detect this problem, and treatment can be done with the use of medication or with surgery, depending on the severity. 

7. Injury and trauma

Injuries or blows to the back, especially at waist-height, can cause inflammation and pain in the kidneys. 

How to treat: You can apply a hot water compress on your back and rest. Analgesics may also be taken to help with pain. If pain persists, however, you should seek medical attention. 

Signs and symptoms of a renal problem 

Report your symptoms below to assess your risk for a kidney issue: 

  1. 1. Frequent urge to urinate
  2. 2. Urinating small volumes at a time
  3. 3. Constant pain in the lower back
  4. 4. Swelling of the legs, feet, arms, or face
  5. 5. Itching all over the body
  6. 6. Excessive tiredness for no apparent reason
  7. 7. Changes to urine color or smell
  8. 8. Presence of foam in the urine
  9. 9. Difficulty sleeping or poor sleep
  10. 10. Loss of appetite and metallic taste in the mouth
  11. 11. Feeling of pressure in the belly when urinating

Kidney pain during pregnancy 

Kidney pain during pregnancy is generally caused by spinal changes from weight changes in the abdomen. Rarely is pain related to renal issues, but if there is one present, symptoms like pain with urination will occur. You should see your obstetrician if you have any additional symptoms to identify the underlying problem and prevent complications. 

To relieve pain, you can place a hot water compress in the affected region and rest in a comfortable position with your feet elevated. This position can relieve back pain and reduce swelling in the feet. 

When to go to the doctor

You should seek medical attention any time the kidney pain is very intense (especially if it interferes with your activities of daily living) or if the pain occurs frequently. Although there are many causes for kidney pain, it may be related to a spinal issue, and therefore physiotherapy may be a treatment option.