Over 65 million Americans have suffered a recent back pain episode, and it’s one of the most common health issues for adults. But while it can often be related to any number of factors — physical exertion, age, and genetics, to name a few — you shouldn’t always blow it off as just a minor inconvenience. In fact, in some cases, back pain could be a sign of something more serious, like a kidney problem.
Believe it or not, it’s actually harder to decipher the two than you think, especially since your kidneys sit high up on your body near your ribcage. You could easily confuse kidney stones, where there’s a buildup of mineral deposits, or infections, where the kidney is inflamed, with run-of-the-mill pain. Kidney swelling, cysts, or cancer may also be responsible for what you’re feeling, and you may not even know it.
There are a few key ways to tell which problem you may be dealing with. You’ll want to focus on where the pain is coming from and where it’s spreading. If it’s a potential kidney issue, you may feel either a dull ache or sharp pain — depending on if it’s a kidney infection or stone, respectively — in the middle of your back near your ribcage, and it’ll often radiate into your lower abdomen, groin, and/or inner thighs. You may also feel pain solely on one side of your body if only a single kidney is affected, but that’s not always the case. In contrast, general back pain is usually felt lower down on the back, and it typically shoots down the legs as opposed to staying slowly around your core. It also may appear more eventually distributed.
Luckily, a physical exam, urine test, and potential CT or ultrasound scan from your doctor could help confirm which issue may be the cause of your pain. Even if there isn’t something wrong with your kidneys, it’s still a great idea to figure out how to give your back a boost. You deserve to find some relief no matter what!