Reasons Why the Kidneys Can Hurt

There are many answers to the question of why the kidneys can hurt. Just having pain in these organs is reason enough to consult your doctor, since all kidney ailments should be treated as soon as possible to avoid serious consequences.
Reasons Why the Kidneys Can Hurt

Last update: 21 February, 2020

There isn’t only one answer to the question of why the kidneys can hurt. The first thing we need to say is that it isn’t common for there to be pain in these organs, which is why this symptom should always be taken seriously.

However, there are many myths about kidney pain. Popularly, it’s believed that this discomfort is a consequence of not covering your back properly, meaning that “the cold gets into your body” and causes pain. This and other related beliefs are false.

In addition, people often don’t know how to precisely identify the area that’s bothering them. Sometimes, people wonder why the kidneys can hurt but, in reality, the pain is originating in a different area.

Why the kidneys can hurt

A man with kidney pain.

Kidneys are vital organs that play a fundamental role in the body. Basically, they’re responsible for filtering the blood to keep it clean and balanced from a chemical standpoint. They process approximately 190 liters of blood and eliminate 2 liters of waste a day.

The kidneys are located on the back of the abdomen, just below the ribs on either side of the backbone. When these organs hurt, the patient experiences the sensation in the middle of the back or the sides. Sometimes, only one side hurts. However, not all back pain constitutes kidney pain.

Many kidney diseases go unnoticed until they’re advanced. The reasons why the kidneys can hurt range from the presence of kidney stones to kidney cancer. The following are some of the common reasons why that bothersome pain occurs.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones, also known as “nephrolithiasis” or “urolithiasis” cause intense renal pain or colic. The accumulation of substances in the urine form them. Sometimes, they’re as small as a grain of sand, but they can reach the size of a pearl.

When the stones are very small, they move freely through the urinary tract and the body usually passes them without causing any symptoms. However, when the stone is larger, it causes intense pain that comes in waves and that the patient feels in their back or lower abdomen and worsens with movement.

Usually, the pain is located on one side. However, with the passage of hours, it may descend to the groin and genital area. No position relieves the discomfort, which is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or itching or burning urination.


A man with pain in his kidneys.

In addition, the kidneys can hurt due to an infection. Usually, the infection starts in the urethra or bladder and then reaches the kidneys. It can cause permanent damage to these organs or spread to the bloodstream and can be life-threatening.

One of the symptoms is intense and persistent back pain, as well as painful and burning urination. The patient feels the need to go to the bathroom often and the urine has a fairly strong smell. In addition, it isn’t uncommon for the patient to also have nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.

Polycystic kidney disease or cysts

A kidney cyst may not cause any symptoms until it reaches a significant size. When this occurs, it causes intense back pain and/or pain on the bottom sides of the back. Also, it’s common for a patient to also suffer from headaches and blood in the urine.

Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic condition that causes cysts to grow in groups and prevents the body from functioning properly. They cause side or back pain and often result in kidney stones and frequent infections.

Other causes of kidney pain

Also, the kidneys can hurt due to hydronephrosis, a renal inflammation due to an accumulation of urine. It causes intense back pain, as well as blood in the urine and fever. The pain may also be caused by Renal Vein Thrombosis (RVT), a serious problem that causes serious pain in the patient’s back, behind the bottom of the ribs, and hips.

Injuries and blows can also lead to kidney pain, as well as pregnancy. In the latter case, it’s due to spinal alterations due to the weight of the pregnant woman’s belly. Pain on one side of the back and abdomen accompanied by hematuria can be symptoms of kidney cancer.

  • Morata Alba, J., Pérez García, B., & Carpena Lucas, P. J. (2015). Dolor abdominal: no siempre es lo que parece. Pediatría Atención Primaria, 17(67), e189-e192.