Flank pain is commonly experienced as discomfort or pain in the upper part of your abdomen, back and sides. At most, this is nothing too serious and will go away on its own depending on the activities you may have been doing. However, if the pain persists and gets worse on either side of your body or your back, there may be something more serious causing it and needs to get checked up by your doctor.
Pain that is caused by kidney problems usually is felt as flank pain or on the small of the back. There are times when flank pain radiates all the way to the middle of the abdomen and even all the way to the groin it makes it difficult to walk. Flank pain can be a sign that the kidney may be swollen due to a kidney stone or the urinary tract is infected.
Common Causes and Symptoms Related to Flank Pain
The first sign and symptom of kidney problems or a urinary tract infection is flank pain. But then it can also be a pinched nerve or muscle strain. If you haven’t been doing anything physically strenuous prior to the pain, you may consider going to your doctor to get evaluated for a urinary tract infection or kidney stones.
Our kidneys act as our body’s filters which are assigned to get rid of waste and toxins through our urine. Dehydration does not make your kidneys happy because it has a harder time doing its job. Drinking plenty of water is the best way to prevent kidney and bladder problems to help your organs function with ease.
Urinary Tract Infection ( UTI )
A build-up of bacteria in the urinary tract often leads to a urinary tract infection. This is why drinking plenty of water is important to flush out bacteria from the entire urinary tract. This will include the ureters, urethra, bladder, and kidneys. Sugary drinks are mostly the cause of urinary tract infections as sugar feeds the growth of bacteria. And without enough water to filter them out of your urinary tract, a bacterial infection is what it turns into.
Symptoms of a UTI
- pain in the lower back or abdomen, bladder infection
- pain in the upper back and kidney area, upper UTI
- frequent need to urinate
- blood in the urine
Treatment for UTI
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics and restrict you from drinking beverages loaded with sugar and will advise you to keep drinking plenty of water. The symptoms should clear up after but if you keep getting UTIs and they become severe, your doctor will refer you to a urologist.
Crystals that form in your urine are called kidney stones. These build up in your kidneys after a long time of unhealthy habits such as lack of water, consuming food high oxalate, sodium and animal protein.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
- severe flank pain radiating down the groin
- painful urination
- blood in urine
- nausea or vomiting
- fever and chills
- urinating only a small amount at a time
Treatment for kidney stones
Small stones can be passed through urine with pain medications and water therapy. Your doctor can also prescribe medication to help ease the passing of stones. Large stones definitely cannot fit through the urinary tract and will need to be removed by surgery or lithotripsy. This procedure breaks down the large stones into small bits so it can pass easily.
Flank pain can be also be caused by musculoskeletal issues as you may have strained or torn a muscle from engaging in strenuous physical activities, lifting objects that are too heavy, repetitive movements and a bad fall that could have caused trauma.
Muscle pain will feel like a dull ache but it can get worse when you exert effort. Spinal arthritis or a pinched nerve is also underlying causes related to flank muscle pain,
Home treatment and management with NSAIDs and ice pack therapy for 20 minutes every couple of hours can help relieve swelling and pain. If you notice swelling or redness on your sides, it is best to seek medical help.
What Else Causes Flank Pain?
Although flank pain can be narrowed down to a few causes, there can be other more serious conditions that can be considered as they also exhibit similar pain :
- Kidney or bladder cancer
- Kidney disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Liver disease
- Slipped disc
- Infection of the spine
- Spinal fracture
Flank pain can be rather sticky to diagnose unless one goes through several different tests to determine the issue. These tests may include one or a few of the following :
- Chest Xray, Lumbosacral Xray
- Kidney or abdominal ultrasound
- Blood tests
- Urinalysis, urine culture, cystourethrogram
- Abdominal CT scan
When your doctor evaluates your condition be ready to answer these questions to help identify the cause of your flank pain :
- Where exactly does it hurt?
- When did you start feeling pain?
- What does the pain feel like?
- How often do you feel the pain?
- How long does the pain last?
Some of the diagnostic tests will also require a contrast dye to be injected into your veins to help improve the images and identify any blockages or obstructions in the organs. The dyes used is of iodine and with very rare side effects.
Any unexplained pain that won’t go away on its own or even with medication calls for a visit to the doctor to prevent further infections, complications, and injury.
Preventing Flank Pain
Flank pain and the causes that come with it may be prevented by practicing these simple habits :
- Drink at least eight glasses of water
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Practice personal hygiene
- Practice and engage only in safe sex
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Avoid food high in sodium and sugar
- Limit consumption of animal fat
- Exercise at least three times a week
Our kidneys play a vital role in bodies. They need to be in top form to be able to properly do their function of filtering waste as our overall health and well being depends on this. Help your kidneys do their job well by living a healthy lifestyle and eating well.