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      Back Pain vs. Kidney Pain: How to Tell the Difference

      lower back pain

      Determining the source of discomfort in your back can be a challenge. When it comes to back pain vs. kidney pain, it can be a little bit easier if you know what to look for and how to treat it.

      What are the differences between kidney pain and back pain? The differences between kidney pain and back pain include the location and severity of your pain and any additional symptoms.

      Typically, you won’t feel kidney pain in your lower back. While some back pain may resolve itself with rest, the same isn’t true for kidney pain. If the root cause of discomfort is an issue with your kidneys, the pain will worsen without treatment.

      Let’s explore more about each so that you know how to tell the difference between back pain and kidney pain and when to get help.

      Back Pain

      Back pain is one of the most common ailments people face. Some studies suggest that up to 84% of adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. About a quarter of the world’s population is suffering from chronic pain due to back problems at any given moment. 

      To treat back pain successfully, it’s important to understand the cause of your pain. 


      The lower back is the most common location for back pain, but back pain can occur anywhere. 

      Middle back pain can signal various conditions, including herniated discs, pinched nerves, and your body’s response to bad posture. Pain in the upper back is often the result of a sprain or strain.

      If your pain radiates to other areas, like the legs or your buttocks, that still doesn’t signal kidney pain. Damaged discs and pinched nerves can both cause your back pain to radiate to other areas of the body.

      Types of Pain

      The type and severity of your back pain will depend on the root cause of your pain.

      Muscle pain can feel like dull body aches that come and go, often with exercise or movement. If you’re dealing with muscle pain, movement will worsen symptoms.

      Nerve pain may start in the back but travel to other areas of the body, like your legs. Sciatica, or lumbar radicular pain, is an example of pain that runs from the lower back to one or both legs along the sciatic nerve.

      Bone pain is often the result of an injury, like a fracture, or irregularities in the spine. An abnormal curve in the spine, for example, can cause moderate to severe pain that comes on suddenly and worsens with movement.

      Signs & Symptoms

      A variety of symptoms can show up alongside back pain. While many patients experience chronic pain, some of these signs and symptoms result from an acute injury or trauma. 

      Common symptoms to watch for with back pain include:

      If you experience worsening back pain symptoms after a trauma or back injury, seek medical attention immediately.


      The causes of back pain vary, with some more common in women than men. Both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, for example, are common causes of back pain that are more likely to occur in women.

      Here are a few of the more common causes of back pain:

      Medical conditions like meningitis, endometriosis, high blood pressure, and fibromyalgia may also cause back pain. That is why it’s important to be upfront about all symptoms with your doctor as you identify the root cause of your pain.

      How to Get Relief

      Rest and changing environmental triggers like your desk chair may be the easiest places to start when addressing back pain, but there are additional ways to relieve pain in the long term.

      Chiropractic care has proven effective at reducing not only back pain, but neck pain and headaches, including spinal headaches. At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we use gentle manipulations to adjust spinal misalignment, a common cause of back pain.

      Additional treatments for back pain include:

      Kidney Pain

      Your kidneys are there to make red blood cells and remove waste and any excess fluids in the body. They keep your body and your bloodstream filtered and balanced. 

      Dealing with your body’s waste makes the kidneys susceptible to infection and other conditions that may cause kidney pain. Kidney pain is common, but kidney problems can get serious quickly if left untreated.


      Kidney pain is typically localized pain, but it can spread to the groin or belly if the cause is left untreated.

      Where is kidney pain? Kidney pain is typically felt higher up the back or below the rib cage. It can start on either side of the spine or at both flanks, depending on the cause of pain.

      Types of Pain

      Many patients report that kidney pain is deeper than back pain, but the type of pain can also depend on the underlying cause.

      What does kidney pain feel like? Kidney pain can feel like a dull ache to start, or sharp and acute. In either case, the pain doesn’t go away with rest and will worsen with time. It can be constant or come in waves.

      The pain with kidney stones, especially larger ones, is usually sharp. This pain can worsen if the stone becomes stuck in the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder, and causes a blockage. Small kidney stones may cause little pain at all.

      Generally, back pain with additional flu-like symptoms is likely a sign of a kidney problem. 

      Signs & Symptoms

      Kidney pain typically comes with additional symptoms that signal something more than temporary or chronic back pain. Signs and symptoms of kidney pain include:

      Any symptoms of kidney issues should receive immediate medical attention. Patients with compromised immune systems or a history of renal conditions should be particularly mindful of monitoring these symptoms. 


      Common causes of kidney pain usually point to problems with the urinary system. 

      What causes kidney pain? Kidney infections, kidney stones, and urinary tract infections (UTIs) can all cause kidney pain.

      Additional possible causes for kidney pain include:

      Any problems with the kidneys can become serious if left untreated. 

      Kidney infections like pyelonephritis that start in the urethra or bladder can quickly travel to the kidneys and cause pain and scarring. In severe cases, kidney infections can lead to renal failure, a life-threatening condition.

      How to Get Relief

      If you’re experiencing pain in the kidney area, it’s crucial to identify the cause of your pain and start treatment immediately.

      Your healthcare provider will likely want a urinalysis, or urine test, and CT scan to screen for common kidney conditions like kidney stones.

      From there, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a kidney infection. In the case of a small kidney stone, you may need to take a wait-and-see approach as the stone passes. Severe kidney infections may require hospitalization, even surgery. 

      When to Seek Help

      If you believe what you’re experiencing is kidney pain, seek medical help immediately. If you’re unsure, seek medical attention as soon as possible if you’re experiencing any of the following along with your back pain:

      If you’ve been trying to alleviate chronic back pain without much luck, Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic can help. 

      We work with patients who don’t just want to treat their symptoms but to prevent persistent recurrences of chronic back pain. We’d love to come up with a treatment plan unique to you. Make an appointment today or call us at 303-955-8270.


      1. Casiano VE, Sarwan G, Dydyk AM, et al. Back Pain. [Updated 2022 Feb 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538173/
      2. Goldsmith, R., Williams, N. H., & Wood, F. (2019). Understanding sciatica: illness and treatment beliefs in a lumbar radicular pain population. A qualitative interview study. BJGP open, 3(3), bjgpopen19X101654. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6970588/
      3. Ledford C. (2017). Spine Conditions: Mechanical and Inflammatory Low Back Pain. FP essentials, 461, 15–20. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29019640/
      4. Dongxu, Z., Fei, Y., Xing, X., Bo-Yin, Z., & Qingsan, Z. (2014). Low back pain tied to spinal endometriosis. European spine journal : official publication of the European Spine Society, the European Spinal Deformity Society, and the European Section of the Cervical Spine Research Society, 23 Suppl 2, 214–217. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24531988/
      5. Goubert, D., Danneels, L., Graven-Nielsen, T., Descheemaeker, F., & Meeus, M. (2017). Differences in Pain Processing Between Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain, Recurrent Low Back Pain, and Fibromyalgia. Pain physician, 20(4), 307–318. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28535553/
      6. Mu, J., Furlan, A. D., Lam, W. Y., Hsu, M. Y., Ning, Z., & Lao, L. (2020). Acupuncture for chronic nonspecific low back pain. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 12(12), CD013814. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33306198/
      7. Alelign, T., & Petros, B. (2018). Kidney Stone Disease: An Update on Current Concepts. Advances in urology, 2018, 3068365. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5817324/
      8. Belyayeva, M., & Jeong, J. M. (2021). Acute Pyelonephritis. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30137822/
      9. Mazhar HR, Aeddula NR. Renal Vein Thrombosis. [Updated 2021 Jun 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536971/
      10. Akbar S, Bokhari SRA. Polycystic Kidney Disease. [Updated 2021 Dec 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532934/

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      Overall, I didn’t necessarily feel that I had any particular issues other than a prior shoulder injury that slightly bothered me when I exercised with a heavy set of weights. I felt fairly energetic due to the typical routine of exercise and eating a well balanced healthy diet. The idea for my treatment was to be more proactive about my long term health and ensure that I was in proper alignment.
      After my initial consultation, I found out my body was out of alignment more than I felt. I did not feel much different after the first few adjustments; however, what I did not realize until a few weeks in is that I had been waking up prior to treatment with kind of a groggy kind of feeling. After years of waking up like this I assumed this was just the norm. I now have been waking up with little fatigue and grogginess (even with a 10 month old baby) and a new burst of revitalization even if I did not get a full 8 hours of sleep. The feeling of being excited the day before a trip has been occurring on the standard day getting up for work. My workouts have also seen an improvement with the new improved energy levels as well as the standard weight I typically lift went up with little efforts.
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      Even if you think that you have a good alignment, you should be sure to visit Dr. Ty for a great proactive health care plan!

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