Kidney Pain Location and Symptoms

What is Kidney Pain?

Kidney pain is a term often used to describe a lower back pain that is more lateral (towards the side) or around the flanks. However the kidneys, despite popular belief, are not located in the lower parts of the abdomen. The kidneys lies just below the diaphragm on either side towards the back of the abdomen in an area known as the retroperitoneal cavity. Back pain is by far the most common cause of what is termed kidney pain.

Often pain of the flanks after trauma (like a punch – “kidney punch”) or after physical exertion (like running) is mistaken for kidney pain but usually the pain is muscular in origin in both these circumstances. Pain due to other organs lying around the kidney may also be mistaken for kidney pain. In females, menstrual pain, discomfort during ovulation and pain of the fallopian tubes and/or ovaries due to a number of gynecological conditions may also be mistaken for kidney pain.

Murphy’s punch sign is a test conducted by a doctor during a physical examination where gentle tapping on the back, in line with the level of the kidney, will elicit pain due to certain infectious causes in or around the kidney.

Kidney Anatomical Location

The right kidney lies slightly lower than the left kidney because of the shape of the liver. The kidneys are well protected by pararenal fat and are situated in a position where other abdominal, chest and back structures shield it.

Depending on the level of the body, the following organs may lie next to the kidney :

  • Psoas major muscle (medial to both kidneys).
  • Quadratus lumborum muscle (posterior to both kidneys).
  • Spleen, colon (lateral/anterolateral to left kidney) and liver and colon (lateral/anteroletral to the right kidney).
  • Pancreas, small intestine (anterior to the left kidney) and liver, small intestine and inferior vena cava (anterior to right kidney).

Based on the close proximity of these other structures to the kidneys, it is difficult to isolate pain in the mid back or abdomen as being due to the kidney unless other signs and symptoms are present.

Signs and Symptoms Related to Kidney Pain

Many causes of kidney pain may not be accompanied by other signs and symptoms. However, pain in the mid back or flanks with one or more of the following signs and symptoms may be related to a disorder of the kidney or other organs of the urinary system (ureters, bladder, urethra). In men, the prostate may also be responsible for some of these signs and symptoms.

  • Pain, burning during or eased by urination.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Difficulty with urinating (straining).
  • Diminished flow of urine. If swelling of the abdomen, limbs or entire body is also present, immediate medical attention is required.
  • Erratic flow, hesitating during urination (‘start-stop’)
  • Dribbling – drops/trickle of urine after urinating.
  • Significant changes in urine color for no known reason (pale to clear urine or orange to dark brown urine).
  • Sediments in the urine.

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  • Brian Moat

    If someone receives a sharp blow to lower back, and experiences burning and difficulty urinating, is this a symtom of something serious?

    • Hi Brian. Yes it could be serious. The kidneys, ureters or bladder may have been injured. In fact conditions like bladder trauma are not uncommon with with a blow to the abdomen or back. It is essential that you have this checked up soon because there can be complications if it is left untreated. This can arise days or even weeks later so see your doctor as soon as possible.

  • SmartAce

    I have no pain when I pee but it’s coming out in spurts. My urine is clear and my left kidney is in major discomfort/pain. My left thigh, under my left armpit my upper left shoulder and some mild chest pains have occured. Recently my right kidney also aches just a little bit. Any ideas what could cause is?

    • Hi SmartAce. There could be many possible causes and it is possible that your kidney may not be the problem. Of course, given your symptoms some part of your urinary tract seems to be affected. You should speak to your doctor before this worsens or complications arise. The outcome could be much worse. Speak to your doctor as soon as possible.

      • SmartAce

        I developed a rash on my front left stomach and my back located right where the kidney is. I have no insurance but am starting to notice weird things happening like numbness in my back and stomach

  • Hi Isabel. Pain on its own without other symptoms can be difficult to diagnose. As you read from the article above, the pain you describe could be arising from the right kidney. So it would be useful to take notice of any urinary symptoms that could further confirm that the origin of the pain is the kidney. However, it could also be a liver problem, chest-related condition or even a back problem. It is difficult to say with any certainty. Speak to your doctor who can then do a physical examination, and if necessary also run further tests to confirm a diagnosis.