Back pain and flank pain

It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between back pain that is caused by a bone or muscle problem and back pain (flank pain) that is caused by a kidney or bladder infection or a kidney stone.

Back pain that is caused by a bone or muscle problem:

  • Occurs in the lower back, below the waist, or in the upper back, over the spine or between the shoulder blades.
  • Gets worse when a person moves.
  • Gets better when a person rests.

Flank pain that is caused by a kidney infection or a kidney stone:

  • Occurs on one side of the back, just below the rib cage (above the waist).
  • May spread to the bladder area or genitals.
  • Gets worse as the bladder fills.
  • Does not get worse when a person moves.

Flank pain with fever and urinary symptoms may mean a kidney infection (pyelonephritis) is present.

Last Updated: August 12, 2009

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

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