Many times, pain at the lower edge of the ribs on either side of the spine is mistaken for normal backache. But pain typically felt in the flank area, where kidneys are located, should not be dismissed as a normal backache. Backache is dull and persistent, while kidney pain is severe and is experienced in waves. Pain only in the right side or left side of the back is possible if one of the kidneys is infected or is not functioning because of formation of stones.
Blockage of Urine
Kidney stone is the most common cause of pain in the back and abdomen. When a stone blocks the ureter, it also blocks the flow of the urine, which gets accumulated in the kidney. Swelling of the kidney leads to sharp and severe pain in the right side of the abdomen. A kidney stone can block the urine suddenly, and in some cases the blockage is gradual, which can lead to severe pain.
Kidney infection or pyelonephritis which is common in all age groups, may also lead to this pain. The infection in the right kidney may cause inflammation of the kidney and can lead to stretching of the capsule.
Severe injury can result in bleeding within the right kidney, which may cause sharp pain.
An interrupted blood supply to the right kidney due to a blocked artery may lead to death of kidney cells, and can lead to severe pain.
A growing tumor in the right kidney can stretch the kidney capsule slowly. The tumor can compress the nerves in the kidney area, causing pain.
Poly-cystic Kidney Disease
This is a hereditary disease, in which many cysts develop in the kidney. This can cause enlargement of the kidneys, leading to pain.
Spasms in Bladder/Ureter
A full bladder can lead to involuntary muscle contraction and can cause pain in the lower abdominal or in the flank area. This is a temporary condition, which subsides with emptying of the bladder.
Blockage of Urine
Kidney stone symptoms include blood in urine, fever and chills, sharp pain, nausea and vomiting, cloudy and bad smelling urine, burning sensation while urinating, severe back pain, etc. The pain comes in waves, and can be as severe as that experienced during childbirth. The person may find it difficult to hold still, he/she keeps on changing positions. As the stone travels down the ureter, the pain can be experienced in the lower abdomen and groin.
Even a very light touch in the flank area can create sharp pain. Other symptoms like strong urine odor (there can be pus and blood in urine), increased frequency and urgency to urinate, fever, nausea, and vomiting may also be noticed. The condition needs prompt medical attention, to prevent worsening of the situation. Since kidneys filter the blood and remove the toxins, drugs, and waste material, all blood passes through them for purification. Infection in the right kidney can get transferred to the other kidney fast, or it can spread to the bloodstream also. Usually, antibiotics are administered intravenously to prevent the spread of infection.
Spasms in Bladder/Ureter
The sharp pain resolves on its own once the bladder is emptied because production of urine is one of the main functions of kidneys. So never neglect nature's call.
As the kidney capsule enlarges slowly due to tumor, a slow dull pain is experienced by the person. However, in the initial stages there are no symptoms of this condition. In advanced stages, symptoms like weight loss, fatigue, blood in the urine, and intermittent fever can be seen. Back pain below the ribs, which doesn't go away is a characteristic symptom of kidney cancer. Poly-cystic kidney disease may result in dull aching pain and persistent back pain.
Most kidney problems lead to sharp and severe pain in the kidney area. Kidney problems which develop slowly may generate dull pain. Some low-grade infections, kidney failure, tumors, and stones which do not block urine flow are not likely to exhibit any symptoms.
However, they may exhibit symptoms in advanced stages like fever, vomiting. When these conditions are accompanied by pain, then it indicates that the condition has worsened and needs prompt medical attention. Kidneys play an important role in regulating blood pressure and maintaining the normal concentration of electrolytes.
Therefore, dysfunction of a kidney can prove to be life-threatening. So, if you notice flank pain, burning or pain with urination, swelling in the body (ankles, feet, abdomen, lower back, hands, and face), increased urination (especially at night), or changed appearance of the urine, you should consult your physician immediately.