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:

  • Pain in the lower, middle, or upper back
  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Difficulties standing or walking
  • Soreness in the back
  • Stiffness in the back and spine
  • Pain in the legs
  • Pain in the buttocks
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs

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:

  • Muscle sprains and strains
  • Poor posture
  • Overexertion
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Damaged discs, including herniated discs
  • Spinal conditions, including abnormalities in the spine
  • Tumors on or near the spinal cord
  • Sciatica
  • Spondylitis, a rare inflammatory arthritis  
  • Back injuries and fractures
  • Torn ligaments

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:

  • Physical therapy: Stretching and strengthening exercises to improve your posture and core strength can help alleviate back pain.
  • Lifestyle changes: This includes changes to diet, exercise, and posture. Stress and sleep problems are also common triggers for chronic back pain. 
  • Pain medications: Many patients turn to over-the-counter painkillers to mask back pain symptoms, but this should not be a plan for long-term relief.
  • Injections: Your treatment plan or medical advice may include nerve blockers or injectable steroids for targeted back pain relief.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture has proven somewhat effective in some low back pain patients. More research is needed to demonstrate long-term efficacy.
  • Massage therapy: Tension release in the back muscles through massage therapy can be a helpful way to relieve both physical and mental stress.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, your healthcare provider may recommend back surgery to address severe pain. Spinal fusions and disc replacements are 2 common surgical options.

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:

  • Painful urination
  • Frequent urination or a persistent urge to urinate
  • Cloudy urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea or vomiting

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:

  • Fever
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Sudden changes in urine, including urine production
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Shortness of breath

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.

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