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Aching Back: Kidney Pain or Pulled Muscle? How to Tell the Difference

Dealing with back pain is a common and often discomforting experience. It can disrupt daily life and leave individuals searching for answers. But, when the ache originates in the back, it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact cause.

Two prevalent culprits are causing back-injured kidney pain or pulled muscles, each requiring effective relief but different management approaches. 

This post will help distinguish between kidney pain and pulled muscle in the back. It equips you with the knowledge and self-assessment techniques to identify the source of your discomfort. 

What is Kidney Pain?

Kidney, or renal pain, originates from the kidneys – the vital organs that filter waste and excess fluids from the bloodstream. When there is an issue with the kidneys or surrounding structures, it can lead to kidney pain.

Key characteristics of kidney pain include:

Location: Kidney pain is felt in the back, below the ribcage on either side of the spine. It may radiate to the front abdomen, groin, or lower abdomen.

Sensation: Kidney pain is often described as a dull, aching sensation. It can be persistent and may worsen over time.

Other Symptoms: Individuals with kidney pain may experience more symptoms, such as frequent urination, pain or burning during urination, blood in the urine, or fever.

Causes: Kidney pain can result from various conditions. It includes kidney infections, kidney stones, or kidney disease. It can also occur due to other medical issues, like urinary tract infections or certain medications.

What is Pulled Muscle?

A pulled muscle, also known as a muscle strain, occurs when muscle fibers are stretched or torn due to overexertion, sudden movements, or inadequate warm-up before physical activity. Key characteristics of pulled muscle pain include:

Location: Pulled muscle pain is localized to a specific area in the back where the muscle is injured. Depending on the muscle affected, it may involve the lower back or other areas.

Sensation: Pulled muscle pain is often described as sharp or stabbing. It may be more intense during movement or activities that engage the affected muscle.

Other Symptoms: Muscle strains can cause muscle spasms, swelling, and limited range of motion in the affected area.

Causes: Pulled muscles result from activities that must involve repetitive or forceful muscle contractions, sudden movements, or improper lifting techniques.

Distinguishing Between Kidney Pain and Pulled Muscle

While kidney pain and pulled muscle can both manifest as back discomfort, here are several key differences that set them apart:

  • Pain Location: Kidney pain is felt in the back, below the ribcage, and may radiate to the front abdomen or groin. In contrast, pulled muscle pain is localized to a specific area where the muscle is injured.
  • Sensation: Kidney pain is often described as a dull ache, while pulled muscle pain is more likely to be sharp or stabbing.
  • Associated Symptoms: Kidney pain may be accompanied by more symptoms, such as changes in urination, blood in the urine, or fever, not associated with pulled muscle pain.
  • Triggers: Kidney pain may not be affected by movement, while pulled muscle pain tends to worsen with certain activities that engage the injured muscle.

Self-Assessment Techniques

To help determine whether you might be experiencing kidney pain or a pulled muscle, consider the following self-assessment techniques:

  1. Note the specific location of the pain in your back. Kidney pain may be more likely if it is closer to the ribcage on either side of the spine and radiates to the front abdomen.
  2. Pay attention to the sensation of the pain. If it is dull and aching, it could show kidney pain, whereas sharp or stabbing pain may suggest a pulled muscle.
  3. Observe if you experience any other symptoms, such as changes in urination or fever. These could show kidney-related issues and warrant medical evaluation.
  4. Consider whether certain activities or movements worsen the pain. If engaging the back muscles exacerbates the discomfort, a pulled muscle might be more likely.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While self-assessment can provide valuable clues, seeking medical evaluation for persistent or severe back pain is essential. Red flags that warrant immediate medical attention include the following:

  • Severe, Sudden-Onset Pain: If you experience a sudden and severe onset of back pain, especially accompanied by fever or urinary symptoms, seek medical attention.
  • Blood in Urine: If you notice blood in your urine, it may show kidney-related issues that need medical evaluation.
  • Neurological Symptoms: Any weakness, numbness, or tingling in the legs or loss of bladder or bowel control requires immediate medical attention.

Final Thoughts

Distinguishing between kidney pain and pulled muscle is crucial for effective management and relief of back discomfort.

Kidney pain, originating from the kidneys, may be accompanied by symptoms like changes in urination or fever, while pulled muscle pain presents with localized sharp or stabbing sensations.

See you in my next post…’til then, be healthy and live fully!

Dr. Lex Gonzales
Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT has been a physical/physiotherapist for over 24 years and is an award-winning author and keynote speaker. On he provides quality information and practical solutions you can use to improve your health and function.