What causes kidney stone pain?

Diagram of locations where stones become lodged

Three locations where stones become lodged

Stones usually first develop in the kidneys. (For more information on the process of stone development, see: How do kidney stones form?) A kidney stone usually first causes symptoms when it tries to move down the ureter and out of the urinary system. As it makes its way down the ureter, it can cause blockage, which leads to the development of increased pressure in the kidney above. This pressure leads to the pain associated with passing a stone.

As a stone moves  down the ureter, it tends to become lodged in three locations of natural narrowing: the ureteropelvic junction, the crossing of the ureter over the iliac vessels, and at the entrance of the ureter into the bladder. Depending on where a stone is located along this path, the pain associated with it can vary. Stone pain usually starts high up near the kidney then migrates towards the abdomen and eventually down towards the groin as the stone moves further down the ureter. As a stone is almost ready to come out, patients may feel the urge to urinate.

What about kidney stones that aren’t passing?

Most doctors feel that kidney stones only cause pain if they are blocking the ureter and trying to pass down towards the bladder. Stones that are not obstructing, such as those located in the kidney’s calyxes, are generally thought to be non-painful. This explains why some patients can have extremely large stones filling up their entire kidney with no or minimal pain.

However, it does appear that some non-obstructing kidney stones can cause pain because of either blockage of small tubular structures in the kidney itself (the collecting tubules) or for other unclear reasons. Supporting this view is a recent medical journal article suggesting that the treatment of small non-obstructing “papillary” stones may provide pain relief. (Gdor et al, Multi-institutional assessment of ureteroscopic laser papillotomy for chronic pain associated with papillary calcifications, J Urol 2011) Additionally, testimonials from many kidney stone patients (including a urologist with a personal history of kidney stones) suggest that some  non-obstructing stones can cause pain.


205 Responses to What causes kidney stone pain?

  1. Andrea Facey says:

    I currently have a 15mm kidney stone in my kidney and many small ones. The doctors are telling me ithat is not possible to have pain if it is not in the tract. Meanwhile they keep giving me pain meds and sending me hone. They admitted me for 2 days, pumped me up with fluids and told me there’s nothing else they can do. I’ll be seeing a urologist on Monday.

  2. Katie says:

    I’m so confused!

    I had an ultrasound scan 3 months ago, due to a dull ache in the right side of my back and I was concerned as I have a history of bad UTI’s which has resulted in scarring in my right kidney. I was on antibiotics for a lot of my childhood.
    The scan confirmed I have something that is 7mm inside my right kidney as well as scarring.
    I was referred back to the Consultant just before Christmas at this point the dull ache had become more intense, he told me the pain could be from infection although this was contradictory as he had tested my urine which confirmed no infection.
    He said he can’t understand why I would have pain in my back. So I have to go back to the hospital for a CT scan.
    The ache has turned from dull to a sharp pain every now again not constant and it is worrying me, I’m studying, working have holidays planned etc. and don’t want to end up hospitalised.
    Does anyone have any advice ?

  3. Sally says:

    Small kidney stones in the ureter DO CAUSE EXTREME PAIN. I have had this particular stone halfway down the ureter for 5 weeks; not moving. I have to be on oxycodone to stand it. I read a post where the patient had a small stone that could not be removed with ureteroscopy because the ureter was too swollen and inflamed; the docs had to place a stent to try to enlarge the ureter. I believe my stone is not moving because of inflammation blocking the ureter. I’m sure that happens to lots of stone patients and it is common sense. I’m drinking floods of water, as I alway do because of 3rd stage renal disease. The inflammation extends to the bladder which is now not working properly to void and spills mucus. Doctors are dense and mean if they cannot figure this out and do something. I hope the new urologist I will be seeing in several days is smarter about taking action. If I get an infection that could send me into 4th stage renal disease and dialysis, shortening my life. I also suspect that the docs so far are stalling because they are part of an HMO which denies treatment in order to save money. I am not part of the HMO, just seeing the doctors independently. BTW the first item in the Patient’s Bill of Rights is that the patient has a right to participate in his/her own care. I believe doctors who ignore symptoms, deny care, and invent bogus theories such as saying small never cause pain are violating the Patient’s Bill of Rights. Some small stones I have passed with no problem; however, this particular stone is extremely painful, probably cannot pass because of swelling and some plaque that is visible on the CT scan, and should be dealt with. It is the patient, not the doctor, who knows when a small stone is excruciatingly painful. Doctors are morally obligated to offer options for treatment. Keep trying! And good luck!

  4. Shruti says:

    Hi all…
    Please turn towards yoga..
    Kapal bharti is the asana that helps in healing kidney ailments and if u make it part of ur routine chances of never getting it back..

    Also Surya namaskara( sun salutations) help in keeping kidney stomach liver in good shape ..

    Recently diagnosed with 6mm stone. Horrified. But I have resolved to do these two asanas.

    There is no harm in practicing natural healing. Its always benefitting.

  5. JATIN P GAJERA says:

    I currently have a stone in my ureter near illac junction about 6-7 mm..My urologist has put me a 2 weeks medication & also advised to drink lots of water..Even though I drink a lot of water & take prescribed medicine,I still feel slight pain in the flank,back & heavy pain in the area below midriff where may be Ureters and bladder lie,I don’t have Nausea,bleeding or any sorr of pain while urination though..I hope to get well soon

  6. sheraz says:

    I currently have a stone in my left kidney..My urologist has put me a 2 weeks medication & also advised to drink lots of water..Even though I drink a lot of water & take prescribed medicine,I still feel slight pain in the flank,back & sometimes in the area below midriff where may be Ureters and bladder lie,I don’t have Nausea,bleeding or any sorr of pain while urination though..I hope to get well soon :)

  7. Frustrated Patient says:

    I’ve been having kidney stone issues since 1982, but mostly in the past 10-15 years. I’ve had about 9 ESWL’s (lithotripsies) and one laser procedure. I can’t speak for anyone else, but kidney stones which are not blocking urine flow can be VERY PAINFUL. I have just exhausted my patience level with my urologist, who I like very much, and find someone else who is not committed to the common belief that if the stones don’t block urine flow they do not hurt. I have had to go through months of on and off severe lower abdominal pain, bloody urine and frequent nausea too many times until my urologist finally gives in a does another lithotripsy for the stone or stones that are in my kidney — but not supposed to hurt. I survive on OTC painkillers, Oxy and ice packs until my doctor finally does another lithotripsy, and then I’m fine for months or even a year or two…until the next round.

    I’ve been shipped off to a gastroenterologist previously for extensive tests — finding nothing. (I would add anecdotally that a full colon sometimes aggravates the pain).

    I had a separate ESWL on my left and right kidneys in May & June, 2015. Ironically the right kidney had (apparently) a stone in the ureter causing potential or actual blockage. That wasn’t the painful side, but we did that side first.

    After follow-up visits, ultrasound, etc. I was pronounced clear in late June. Except that I wasn’t. By mid-September I was having enough regular pain that I went back in to see the urologist, had a flat x-ray and CT scan. I still had multiple stones (none are blocking anything) in my left kidney. And as usual, was told that non-obstructive stones don’t cause pain. With a new Oxy Rx I was to see how things progressed.

    We’re now in early November, and I’ve gone as far as I can go with the Oxy and ice. I can’t spend half of my time in bed. All I’ve been able to get from my urologist is another appointment in a week.

    So I’m giving up, even though I’m very fond of this doctor and his staff. I can’t keep battling the belief that my stones are not causing severe pain even when my urine is dark and bloody, I have nausea and it’s the exact same pain in the exact same left side abdomen as I’ve had for the past 10-15 years which is only relieved by lithotripsy. I need to find a doctor who is not wedded to the notion that unless the stone is blocking urine flow it isn’t causing pain.

    It was reassuring to see that there is evidence on this site (and others) that non-blocking stones can be painful. I just wanted to post this as I’m sure there are others who are experiencing similar problems obtaining relief. Fortunately the last couple of days have been good, but I know this is only temporary. I need to find a new urologist who will treat my stones.

    • brandi says:

      I also suffer from frequent kidney stones. I had mine tested and they are calcium based. I cut back on dairy and had a few less, but I swear if I have one glass of Milk I’ll wake up with a stone the next day!

      But the reason I’m replying is that I’ve found great relief from 2 things that I found at the health food store. 99% of the time, it will eliminate the pain of the stone by breaking it down and softening the edges. I swear by it!! The first is called “Stone Free” and the other is just Hydrangea pills. Both all natural, and worth the try. Available at a health food store. I generally have no need for pain meds, other than occasional advil. And the stone will be on its merry way within days. It can also be taken on a daily basis as a preventative. Cranberry capsules daily can also help with preventive measures. Anyway, I just wanted to share what works for me! I know the agony of kidney stones and the frustrations that come from Drs that just don’t get it!! Good luck to you!

    • Payton Davidson says:

      Hello and thank u sooooooo much for the verification that kidney stones not in the track cause pain. I personally have never had stones but my wife is battling them and has been for over 20 years. Its been so frustrating after MULTIPLE trips to ER rooms, Nights of watching my wife in severe agony (passing out in my arms in freezing sweats), trips to urologists in 2 states, and I an go on, I think you get the gist. EVERY doctor comes in and explains that the kidney doesnt have nerve endings and cant hurt unless its blocked. The Last “Not so smart doctor” had her in tears not believing the pain and said her left has 5 and her right has 6 several above 5 mm. He said left side of back was swollen and she prob just had a pulled muscle. Ugggghh!!!! For real!!! I explained that I have never seen anybody in my life pass out from a pulled muscle. He didnt seem concerned or at all willing to help. I asked him if he could not assist where do I go next. He said maybe a chiropracter. How do these “not so smart” doctors think that there are this many people faking it???? Presently I am at the hospital waiting for wife to recover after just telling the doctor to schedule surgery and we will see if pain stops. I wish that some of these guys could have some stones so they could be more passionate and realize that just because they are not in the track they still can cause pain.Doctor just came and visited me and said he only knew about 2 of the 5 stones that his assistant swore and tried to show us on the cscan that he authorized. Again frustrating but maybe there was only 2 I dont know but I Pray this will alleviate the pain. Again thank you for someone else explaining that we are not alone in this battle with the “Not So Smart Doctors”!!!

      • Shruti says:

        I am sharing link of baba Ramdev’s video ( who happen to be India’s most famous yoga guru).
        The video is in Hindi. But u can practice by following the video. You can read benefits of kapal bharti in the video details as well as on Internet.

        God bless you…plz write to me if you benefit.. It’s not one shot solution. It’s something unhave to practice …

      • Shruti says:

        Keep practicing this asana. Over a period of time you will certainly be benefitted.

    • Shruti says:

      I have recently been diagnosed with same.after doing lot of research found that the solution to cronic kidney ailments is yoga.
      Believe me there is this particular asan/ exercise called ” kapal bharti ” which has treated people having need of dialysis.

  8. I posted on here several months ago. I had a large stone with other smaller stones behind it. Tonight I finally passed it…but I almost went to the hospital before hand. It measures 12mm x 8mm and caused some bleeding after it entered the urethra. I went on FloMax 2 months ago…I really don’t know if that helped. Best of luck and care to all….

  9. Patrizia says:

    I have my first ever stone — 5 mm. Ultrasound showed it is at the bottom of my ureter. It hasn’t passed yet. I have been drinking water like crazy… Even tried sipping on apple cider vinegar, warm water and olive oil.. How long before this thing passes? Did most of you have to change your diet? I am healthy female, an avid runner and follow a healthy eating regime. Not sure how I ended up with a stone.

    • Sandy Larson says:

      I was told that once it goes into the bladder the pain stops and where yours is situated it has made the painful journey already. Also a lot of stones break apart at this point and just sand-like particles pass through and you might not see them. Take heart, the worst is over!

    • Melissa says:

      Are you having pain with yours?

  10. troy says:

    I’m 43 been passing stones since I was 18. Most of these post are bs. I’ve have two lithitripsy surgery aND one where they had to drill my kidney to go in cause it was to large to pass. If your stone can get to the bladder you can pass it, period no if ands or butts. Ur ureter is larger than the urethra leading from the kidney to the bladder. It may take pain med but it’s all gonna pass. I’ve passed 20 plus stones they weren’t all easy but they passed. Drink water cause I have had several that got stuck mid shaft, it’s uncomfortable so get some force behind it…..water pushes it out always

  11. faisl says:

    Kidney stone.., make you said special if you are in young age.,,,,, and some people is luck when they had stone not coming back… But…. I can’t say nothing…..kidney stone make you life destroy……. All the time urine burning pain in the back. … So pray God say God plz don’t show me agan

  12. j ramey says:

    lotsofpain28-wHAT THE HELL is a STUMICK?!! What a f#@$%tard!!

    • Meshelle says:

      To J. Ramey:

      Some people speak multiple languages, hold multiple degrees and haven’t mastered spelling the English language, or it could be a typo. It’s not that big of a deal.

      Do be so quick to throw out insults. It’s really not necessary.

  13. Tom Bradwell says:

    To be honest, after reading the horrific accounts of pain related to the stent/surgery on this site, I was actually expecting the worst. I had a full blown two-hour double procedure (invasive on one side and the SWL on the other) with a stent inserted this past Friday.

    I had a 9 x 5 mm stone removed near the bladder on the right and two smaller stones crushed in the left kidney. I passed one last year, but this one was too large. The first 48 hours of recovery were most difficult, with blood in the urine and burning being the biggest issue. There was some pain…maybe a 6 on a scale to 10.

    The Dr put me on flomax, tylenol and pyridium (I never even filled the prescription for percoset). Recovering from the anesthetic drugs used for the surgery were the worst part, the rest has been relatively steady. I improved each day. As of today (Monday), I can barely tell that I have a stent in except for when I have to go to the bathroom (a little pressure and orange urine). I go in tomorrow to have the string pulled and stent removed. My experience was not like many of those I read here, so i guess I was fortunate. It isn’t always hellish.

    • Has any one out there tried oils to help dissolve the stones? I believe in oils and just curious. They also have oils that you put on hot packs and put on your back. I want to try start tomorrow. I used to take them all the time and want to take a combination of oils in a capsule along with lemon juice and was stone free for 9 nine years. I only stayed on the oil program for one year. I can’t believe the pain the 6mm stone is causing. I’ve never had one this big before and it is interfering with my social and daily life routine. Has anyone tried the vinegar apple remedy or cranberry/water one. I just don’t want to wait 2 weeks two weeks for this thing to pass. Too darn frustrated. I feel like I have to go to the bathroom all the time. So I am afraid to travel away for a wedding this weekend plus worried about how I will feel. Help!

  14. lotsofpain28 says:

    I’m 28 and my left kidney has a stag horn stone… I’ve had surgery on it 4 years ago… I keep a UTI all the time… I’m now passing a stone I think… The pain is awful… Cold sweats… Sick to my stumick and peeing hurts so much I get a headache from all the pain… What can I do to pass this demon???

    • Mysti says:

      I hope you have passed the stone. I know from experience, it is horribly painful. I had to have two of mine surgically removed, they hurt my stumick also. But the good news is along with the pain, they do pass.

  15. yusuf says:

    i have been feeling pain on my groin area,the pain do resorface after two days and atimes i have difficulty urinating,pls what can do,since i have seen doctor twice but they dont seems to detect my ailment

  16. Phalla Vann says:

    It is not the pain that I am afraid of. It is the fever and pneumonia

  17. Phalla Vann says:

    I am about to give birth to a second baby. My first baby was ten years ago. Hopefully it isn’t causing a lot of damage.

  18. Brett says:

    Oh yeah, CAT4676 or anyone else, “PLEASE DON’T” ever drink Cranberry Juice for your kidney stones. This is fine for your Urinary Tract Infection(UTI), but Cranberries are HIGH in Oxylate’s and will only make your stones worse in the long run (It makes stones grow larger since Oxylate’s bind with Calcium.)

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