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.

103 Responses to What causes kidney stone pain?

  1. Orvin says:

    I’m 43….Past weekend I had the most grotesque kidney pain that I can describe……Thank God the stone got out with a minimun of lacerations….In fact that was horrible. From 1 to 10, the pain was very close to 14 or 15. (Simply unbearable).

  2. Khaddy says:

    Im having kidney stone that I fell d pain all the time,but the thing that I did not Understand Is im felling more pain after drinking more water,Im trying Acv+lemon+olive oil+ water Im felling releive of the pain when I take this portion

  3. Anne says:

    I have two very small kidney stones, don’t know exact size, in my left kidney. They are located in the lower pole. I was in the hospital for chest pains three months ago. Heart tests fine and most likely from GERD. They found I had a kidney infection with crystals. My blood work was normal.

    I went to my PCP twice after that as infections returned. This was the fourth infection since last August when I might have passed a stone but was not in a lot of pain. The second time she sent me to get a CT scan, the stones were found and a follow up with a urologist. When I saw him we decided to wait and see and I see him again this Tuesday.

    I have been trying the ironing board positioning and drinking lots of water with lemon with no luck.

    Pain and pressure has been slightly worse the last several days as well as the feeling that marbles are rolling around in my kidney but have had these symptoms since April just not as badly. I don’t think I am trying to pass the stone yet but I am becoming increasingly uncmfortable.

    My question is what are the treatment options for KS in the lower kidney if it won’t pass. I know these stones are harder to pass as they need to defy gravity to get to the uterer. Are the same options as KS in other location?

  4. Ivan says:

    Just passed a kidney stone, must have been a small one because I hardly felt it when I urinated. I haven’t had one for about 6 months which was extremely painful, my urologist said if it doesn’t pass I would need surgery. I heard that jumping up and down sometimes help the passage of the stone, so I tried it. The stone finally passed but probably on it’s own. The most recent stone created quite a bit of constant burning type pain as it made its way out, almost a full day, jumping didn’t seem to help, consumed lots of water, that made me feel nauseated. Today, I’m weak, and tired from lack of sleep. I have changed my diet, but recently found that eating berries is not recommended which I consume quite a bit. Another food item I cannot eat, among the many.

  5. jason says:

    I turned 30, and then got stones… That was 6 years ago I an now 36.. I have passed more than 15. It happens more when I drive long car road trips not sure why… I have been to a urolagy doctor and was given flowmax and after that my stones were gone for a year and a half.. But will get small ones now and then.
    To me when they are passing it feels like I am getting niped and can feel them all the way down to my penis..not sure why but when I feel the wave of pain and the consant urge to pee I know I have a stone… Dose any other guy feel the same pain as I do or have??

    • Molly says:

      I am a woman, but I experience the same pain symptoms you describe.

    • JIM BOB says:

      I know exactly what your talking about because I feel the exact same way. I an scheduled for surgery Wed. so they can use soundwaves or something. They also said I have to get a stint. : / Im 36… The JOYS of getting older…..

  6. Lauren says:

    I’m 13 and have kidney stones. I’ve been through IVP’s ultrasounds and well anything they do for younger people. Mine hurt so bad I can’t go to school or anything they just took me in for another IVP and said there might be smaller ones in there and they say that I won’t have pain but I do! The pain makes me dizzy and I get a migrane. I end up throwing up and they said my kidneys might be a little swollen.. I seriously hate how I’m in the ER every 3 days because of my pain. I have tried ibuprofen to stop the pain and it never helps. I just want to know why this happens? I don’t quite know much about kidney stones except they hurt like crap! Ugh :(

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