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What is the Difference Between Lower Back Pain & Kidney Pain?

patient experiencing lower back pain

Lower back pain is an extraordinarily common problem that affects people of all ages, from young athletes and busy adults to seniors. It’s also a possible sign of kidney cancer or other renal conditions such as infections, stones and blood clots. The kidneys sit against the back muscles just below the rib cage and filter waste products and excess fluids from the blood.

Lower back pain vs. kidney pain  

Only a medical professional can determine what’s at the root of your lower back pain, but there are a few ways to help differentiate pain within the kidneys from musculoskeletal symptoms that affect muscles, bones and spinal discs.

Lower back pain

Factors such as poor posture, long periods of standing and even frequent sitting can cause lower back pain, as can medical conditions like ruptured discs, arthritis and osteoporosis. Depending on the underlying problem, lower back pain is often described as:

  • A dull ache
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Pain that worsens with certain motions, but may improve by moving into a more comfortable position
  • A sharp pain that radiates to other parts of the body, often the legs (if nerves are affected)

Accompanying symptoms of lower back pain may include:

  • Difficulty walking comfortably
  • Sharp neck pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Trouble standing up tall
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the back or limbs
  • Muscle weakness in one or both legs

Kidney pain

The most common causes of kidney pain include kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Rarely, kidney pain may be related to kidney (renal cell) cancer. Pain in the kidneys usually:

  • Is felt in the flank, or the area on either side of the spine beneath the rib cage and above the hips
  • Does not worsen or improve with movement
  • Does not improve without treatment  
  • Remains in one area, but can spread to the lower abdomen or inner thighs

In addition to pain, other signs of kidney-related issues include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Bloody, cloudy or dark urine
  • A frequent urge to urinate
  • Painful urination
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Bad breath or a metallic taste in the mouth

Medical conditions that affect the kidneys require prompt treatment. Be sure to consult with a medical professional if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Moffitt’s approach  

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Urologic Oncology Program is home to a multispecialty team that specializes in diagnosing and treating kidney cancer. To request an appointment and connect with a specialist, submit a new patient registration form or call 1-888-663-3488