Kidney Stones

10 Signs Your Back Pain Could Be a Kidney Stone

Originally published December 3, 2018

Last updated April 19, 2024

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A man with sharp back pain leans forward as he sits on a couch

One of the symptoms of a kidney stone is back pain. But, how can you tell if it’s a kidney stone or just a simple backache? Read on for the telltale signs.

Your back is achy, yet you don’t remember hurting it, and that painkiller doesn’t seem to be helping. Could it be a kidney stone? Possibly, and almost definitely, if you have these other symptoms:

1. Pain on one side of your lower back or on the sides, underneath your ribs

General back pain, on the other hand, can be felt anywhere on your back. So if the pain is in your middle back or shoulders, chances are, it’s not a kidney stone.

2. Pain that comes and goes in waves and changes in intensity

As the kidney stone moves through your urinary tract, you’ll feel pain differently. With a backache, the pain is usually constant.

“Kidney stone pain typically starts high up, near the kidney, migrates toward the abdomen and then eventually moves down toward the groin as the stone moves further down the ureter,” says Mike Nguyen, MD, a urologist at Keck Medicine of USC and associate professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Kidney stone pain is typically severe and can be sharp or dull. It usually occurs suddenly, without any provoking events.

Mike Nguyen, MD

3. Pain that doesn’t go away, when you move

If it’s a backache, a change of position may momentarily alleviate the pain. With kidney stones, the pain won’t disappear when you move, and some positions may even make it worse.

4. Severe pain

Backache pain can range from mild to severe, while kidney stone pain is almost always severe. Kidney stones are rumored to be as painful as childbirth.

“Kidney stone pain is typically severe and can be sharp or dull,” Nguyen says. “It usually occurs suddenly, without any provoking events.”

5. Blood in your urine

Kidney stones can cause your urine to be pink, red or brown.

6. Painful urination

7. More frequent urination

Kidney stones can make you feel like you need to urinate more, and when you do go, you may only go a little.

“When a stone is almost ready to come out into the bladder, patients may feel the urge to urinate,” Nguyen adds.

8. Foul-smelling urine

9. Nausea and vomiting

10. Fever and chills, along with your back pain

This could also mean that you have a urinary tract infection.

If you have any of these symptoms, along with your back pain, you should call your doctor right away.

“If your pain is unbearable, is associated with fevers or chills, or you have nausea and vomiting that is preventing you from keeping down fluids or medications, you should seek immediate medical attention,” Nguyen says.


Anne Fritz
Anne Fritz is a freelance health and lifestyle writer.