How to differentiate back pain from kidney pain?

Have you ever wondered how back pain differs from kidney pain? To begin with, it should be noted that pain in and around the lumbar region is one of the main reasons for medical consultation. Due to the proximity between the spine and the kidneys, in many cases it is possible to confuse the origin of both ailments.

There are subtle aspects related to the location, the general sensation and some associated symptoms, which allow the doctor to detect the origin. For patients, knowing the causes and their possible complications is also important. Do you want to know more about it? Next, we will tell you how to differentiate these pains. Keep reading!

Differentiate back pain from kidney pain by location

Although both back pain and kidney pain cause discomfort in the back of the body, there are some elements that allow us to differentiate one from the other. For instance, back pain tends to be located in the middle part, right in relation to the lumbar spine.

Meanwhile, when the origin of the affection is attributed to the kidneys, the focus of the pain is a little more lateralized. Like all types of pain in the body, these tend to radiate.

Since most tissues and organs are under the influence of the nervous system, some stimuli could activate several fibers in distant places.

In this specific case, renal colic -which is pain caused by the presence of an obstruction in the urinary tract- tends to radiate forward. The middle and lower abdomen, as well as the groin and testicles, may be involved. Low back pain can also radiate, although it depends a lot on the origin of the pain.

For example, inflammation or compression of the sciatic or sciatic nerve (the longest in the human body, which arises in the lumbosacral region and extends to the corresponding leg) also radiates. Born in the lower back and generates severe pain in the back of one of the legs, something that worsens with movement.

In most cases, the sensation is one-sided. Few cases of inflammation in both kidneys or in any of the vertebral roots can cause discomfort on both sides. Either way, a specific physical exam will likely be performed during a medical evaluation to detect the source of the pain.

While common back pain is in the middle, kidney pain is usually experienced on the sides of the body.

Differentiate back pain from kidney pain by type of pain

The sensation may vary a little, depending on the origin of the pain and the mechanisms involved. This refers to the frequency and intensity with which the nerve endings are activated, which are the specialized structures in the capture of stimuli that generate visceral pain.

When low back pain has a mechanical origin, it usually worsens with sudden and very specific movements. This covers the following:

  • Get up from a chair.
  • Do medium or high intensity exercise.
  • To dance.
  • Being in the same position for a long time.

Renal pain, meanwhile, tends to appear constantly. Regardless of the cause, the sensation tends to be long-lasting. In some patients, walking for a few minutes may lessen the pain, something related to the mobilization of the stones.

In either case, patients can describe the sensation as follows:

  • Intermittent: when pain comes and goes spontaneously.
  • Oppressive: when they feel something pressuring them from the outside.
  • Urente: it is less frequent. Some patients may experience a "burning" sensation in combination with any of the above.

Discover more: Exercises to relieve cervical disc herniation pain

Differentiate back pain from kidney pain by duration of pain

A valid aspect for any type of pain is that as long as the cause persists, the sensation will remain just as present. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms by which pain is generated.

When the kidneys are affected, there is usually the presence of stones in the urinary tract. These can have a variable size and, according to the location and the degree of obstruction, the intensity of the pain varies. The sensation may be present continuously until the associated swelling subsides.

However, when the cause is an underlying infection, such as pyelonephritis, things are less straightforward. Here the nerve fibers are stimulated, so that only a therapeutic intervention (or the effective action of the patient's immune system) could solve the situation.

The same principles are involved in low back pain. There are usually anatomical alterations that are conditioning nerve stimulation. This can lead to significant compression or pinching., which get worse when the patient adopts a certain position.

In this case, the pain is usually solved by adopting certain postures. However, because the cause is still present, in many cases only surgical treatment is the viable option. When surgery cannot be indicated, powerful medications are prescribed to ease the discomfort.

Causes of back pain and kidney pain

There are many diseases capable of producing these pains, and it is preferable to consider them according to their origin, as mentioned below.

When the origin is renal

This sensation can be caused by obstructive or inflammatory problems. Sometimes both mechanisms may coexist, as in upper urinary tract infections caused by stones. But before explaining this section, it is necessary to understand a little about the anatomy of the urinary tract.

This is made up of a kidney on each side of the lumbar spine, which receives an important blood flow. From these organs are born structures in the form of ducts, called ureters, that flow into the urinary bladder.

From the bladder, a new tube called the urethra emerges, which allows urine to escape to the outside, through the external genitalia. Obstructive problems involve the presence of an element that prevents the proper flow of urine.

They are almost always calculations, and both their origins and their risk factors are different. When urine accumulates and the walls of the urinary tract are distended, pain begins to be felt.

Inflammatory lesions involve urinary tract infections. These can be high, if they affect only the kidney; or casualties, if they affect the rest of the aforementioned anatomy. The first case is called pyelonephritis, and it is usually the most serious.

Find out more: Urinary tract infections

When the origin is in the back

It is possible to distinguish two large groups, inflammatory and mechanical low back pain. The mechanisms involved are very similar to those described in the previous section, although the anatomy of the lumbar spine is quite different.

The most important thing to know is that the spine is made up of a set of small bones called vertebrae, articulated on the vertical axis. They are "traversed" by the spinal cord, from which nerves throughout the body enter and enter through the skeletal skeleton.

By involving such small spaces, it is very easy for any anatomical defect to cause pain. Mechanical low back pain includes disorders as varied as herniated discs, osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis.

Spinal deviations, such as kyphosis and scoliosis, can also cause these symptoms quite often. Many of the aforementioned diseases require surgical resolution, and the specialists dedicated to this are neurosurgeons.

On the side of inflammatory pathologies, there are many diseases that can also affect various joints and other organs. This is the case of ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and Reiter's syndrome. This last condition, also called reactive arthritis, is associated with inflammation in the urethra and conjunctiva.

Of course, the causes are much more varied. When in doubt, it is always advisable to plan an appointment with the doctor.

Kidney pain tends to be caused by obstructions and infections. Instead, back pain is related to anatomical and muscle problems.

Associated symptoms

The need to differentiate both pains is quite frequent in medical practice, especially in emergency services. In general, the one with the most associated symptoms is renal in origin.

This is usually associated with a personal or family history of stones, even from childhood. If this detail is not known, there are often dietary habits such as the abundant intake of carbonated beverages, which can favor the appearance of the disease.

In the presence of an associated infection, the symptoms are quite clear and include the following:

  • Pain.
  • Itch.
  • Burning when urinating.
  • Sickness.
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fever.
  • Presence of blood in the urine.
  • Among other alterations.

In this case, the doctor may order a simple urine test and a renal ultrasound scan to complete the diagnosis.

For its part, in low back pain the associated symptoms are less evident, with few exceptions. Most of them are inflammatory diseases, which can also cause chronic symptoms.

When to visit the doctor?

Many people tend to delay visiting the doctor when the pain is mild and bearable. In these cases, the cause may be temporary and an immediate visit may not be necessary.

Nevertheless, if the sensation persists for several days and does not diminish with the administration of commonly used analgesics, it is necessary to plan an appointment with the specialist. It is also advisable to go to a consultation if the associated symptoms are evident.

The lack of a treatment leads to evolutions or severe pictures of these diseases. Therefore, it is essential to visit the professional as soon as possible. Many medical specialties can serve these reasons for consultation, such as:

  • Emergency physicians.
  • Internists.
  • Family doctors.
  • Pediatricians.

In specific cases, they may be able to refer you to a neurosurgeon, urologist, or rheumatologist to continue long-term treatment.

Low back pain can have various origins, and in most cases there are excellent therapeutic alternatives. Regardless of whether the origin is renal or articular, medical evaluation for persistent cases is essential. This could prevent the worsening of the clinical picture in the medium and long term.