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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:

  • Is pain felt just below the rib cage and above the waist. Flank pain can be on one or both sides of the back.
  • 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.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
Last RevisedMay 23, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 23, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.