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.

 

148 Responses to What causes kidney stone pain?

  1. veronica says:

    OMG thats what I say. I have had four kids and I will say labor pain is nothing compared to having a kidney stone. I had my first and hopefully last experience last night and I seriously thought I was going to die. They gave me IV meds at the hospital and sent me home so I can pass it. I was scared as hell but they gave me a cup with a screen in it so every time I used the restroom I pee in it and it came out and it was the size of the tip of a pen like they told. Thank you Jesus is all I have to say now to get over this ugly feeling from all the meds

  2. Jennifer says:

    I haved kidney stones for 7 years off and on as right now I have pretty big stone in my left kidney its been there for couple of years that being said I have been having terrible stomach pains on my lefy side of two years my thoughts that my kidney stone is moving inside causeing me pain but my doctors tell me it not possible any thoughts

  3. jfs says:

    In an odd sort of way it feels good to read that others can identify with this pain. It is beyond explanation and description. On my way to work on Friday I get a sharp searing pain in my left side of body. I try to ignore it and can’t. A pain that brought tears to my eyes to the point of almost having to pull to the side of the road. I make it to my destination after the pain subsided a bit but little did I suspect that that was only the taste of things to come. A few hours later I seizure doubles me over and I head to the ER. They diagnosed 3 stones all approximately 4mm. large. Since then life has been a living hell. I don’t want to minimize the suffering other kinds of inflictions give people, but stones have got to be on the top of the pain list. After the rest of day on pin medications to ease the pain somewhat, the unimaginable happens – the pain gets even worse. It was like a knife being twisted in my side. Another trip to ER where I literally collapsed on the floor of the entrance to hospital. A completely blase technician asked me “to get up” and walk to the back to check in. I have tears running down my face and all I can say is “help me”, sounding as pitiful as I must look. Within a few minutes I am hooked up to a morphine drip and IV. Several hours later with new and stronger prescriptions in hand I am back home. It is day three and not any closer to releasing myself from this hell than when it started. It is amazing that something this small can create so much pain. I am in a drug induced stupor until they pass. I can identify with the stories on here. It is impossible to explain how this hurts you and affects you. I have my family trying to help and be understanding but it is impossible to explain the degree of pain so I lock myself up in the bedroom and suffer, with seemingly no end in sight.

  4. I HOPE THAT I DONT GET THE KIDNEY STONES BECAUSE THEY CAN HURT SO BAD AND YOU CANT STAND THE PAIN AND THATS WHY I DRINK A LOT SO I DONT GET THEM BECAUSE IF I DID ID BE CRYING IN PAIN BECAUSE THEY CAN MAKE YOU SICK AND I DONT LIKE KIDNEY STONES BECAUSE THEY CAN HURT SO BAD WHEN THEY ARE COMING AROUND IN YOUR BODY OH MAN THAT IS VERY VERY VERY VERY PAINFUL AND I DONT WANT TO GET THE KIDNEY STONES BECAUSE I DRINK A LOT OF LIQUIDS AND IF I HAD THE KIDNEY STONES ID BE GOING TO THE HOSPITAL TO BLAST THEM OUT OF MY SYSTEM AND THEN ID FEEL BETTER

  5. John Date says:

    Have they tested a stone ? mine are caused by uric acid i take 1 teaspoon baking soda in a glass of water couple times a week it helps desolve the stones if a get a stone I take large dose of this and drink lots of lemon water they usual pass in a few hours

  6. Dawn Wessel says:

    Have your vitamin d and k levels checked.

  7. nickg says:

    I have been having kidney stones for the last 5 years, approximately 4 per year. The first time I was terrified by the pain, nothing has ever hurt so much. I honestly thought I was dying. The pain is like someone stabbed you with a knife in the back, is slowly moves down and hurts like hell, especially in the testicles.

    Dilaudid helps a bit but most people don’t realize you vomit so much with the stones it’s hard to keep medicine in. The pills also cause constipation which doesn’t help matters. In moments of extreme pain the ER has given me a shot of morphine and that at leaks gives me a couple hours of relief.

    I now pass them with a lot less pain, I believe my insides are so scared from the stones I lost a lot of feeling.

    The doctors tell me I’m just unlucky, and I’m at the common age for kidney stones, 32 now. I stopped drinking soda, no help, I stopped taking Tylenol and advil for my headaches, no help I drink about 2L of water a day, not helping. I avoid fast food as much as possible but I travel often for work and that makes it hard to do. I consume much dairy, that hasn’t helped either.

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