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.

 

169 Responses to What causes kidney stone pain?

  1. Tammy says:

    I’m so glad I found this site. I’ve had a kidney stone sitting in my kidney for about 2 years now and I have terrible pain as if I passing one (I know I’ve passed them before). Deep down I knew it was this stone causing all my problems but I never knew their were people out there with the same problems I’ve been dealing with. Well this week I started to have excruciating pain on my left side. Called my urologist who sent me for a CT scan like he did last year. The results came back and he told me I have a non obstructing kidney stone so he doesn’t think my problem is urological. I have an appointment with him in 2 days and if he tells me that it’s not the stone causing me pain I don’t know what to do. I know it the same pain as when I pass them. I have severe left flank pain, pain in my groin, nausea, vomiting frequent urge to urinate and burning when I urinate. Also after I urinate the pain in my side gets worse in about an 3 minutes. The same thing happened last year and I was out of work for 3 weeks in such pain. My doctors never did anything for me then and I’m afraid they aren’t going to do anything for me again. All I get is more medical bills with no answers. These doctors shouldn’t get paid unless they help u. Maybe then they would care enough to get it right the first time. BTW had my gallbladder out 3 years ago so I know that isn’t an issue.

    • Mike says:

      Find a new doctor! Every time I had a stone that causes pian my uro does lip o trip. My stone are roughly .2 cm. Going on 5 yrs of being bless with these things. Had the lipo trip done 3 times now and counting.

  2. wendy says:

    I had a supposedly tiny kidney stone 6 wks post pregnancy. I was hydrated and sent home being told it would pass no problem. It did not. I was rushed to the ER as the stone broke in half going part down the ureter and part through the kidney wall. I was literally screaming out in pain to anyone who would listen passing by the room the doctor came in closed the door and told me to, “Shut the fuck up, I was scaring everyone!” Meanwhile pumped full of morphine in so much pain my husband had to push the button for me every 7 minutes and they’re response to my pain was, “You’re not even the first surgical candidate tomorrow morning.” To which I only recall searching for the windows to jump out…can you imagine they had bars on them. I am certain someone before had escaped the hell that way but not me I started to seizure from the pain so they moved me up, lucky me. They didn’t put a stent in and never planned to return to check on me. They were trying to force a shower on me when I hadn’t urinated 6 + hrs post surgery, by 12 hours I was running a slightly high fever with slightly high blood pressure both of which I am always very low on (96.8/ 80/50) so 102.7 and 150/110 was dire to me and Thank God for husbands who listen and called a family acquaintance who was a Doctor and Thank God for her she literally over rode anthers doctors orders at a hospital she didn’t work for (unheard of) and told me, he never intended to come back to even check on me and would have left me for dead had I not called. Thank God, Thank God….which yes I did have the priest come and pray with me because I was certain I was going to die! These doctors and their crazy beliefs, evolution being one of them. If it’s so certain then why don’t they evolve their knowledge a little. We now know that we don’t eat food for calories fats or carbs per se we eat to repair our DNA. That being said it is crucial to eat things of the highest vibration and for starters dead processed stuff isn’t food and certainly doesn’t vibrate high. Your body is designed to run smoothly repair and heal when it doesn’t it’s usually toxicity or deficiency or both. Get the bad stuff out and the good stuff in- it’s that simple. Don’t eat animal products that are highly processed killing any potential nutrition and rendering it damaging as it shreds the atteries causing plaque to adhere. Eat a diet plentiful in RAW fruits (20 %), Vegs (80 %) and good fat, nuts and seeds sprouted (when applicable), avocados and the best young baby coconut meat. If you’re worrying about protein don’t the Journal of Clinical Nurtition has shown we only need 2-4 % max protein in our diet. The problem we have is not lacking it’s un absorbable because it’s cooked and denatured requiring more energy to break down than it even yields rendering our diets destructive which yields kidney stones!!! Which yes can be eliminated through natural means keeping in mind minerals are a reflection of alkalinity (oxygen) in the body which helps maintain balance for prevention and release of stones hence important to be drinking natural spring mineral water. Vit E Delta Tocotrenol will help soften stones. Hydro colon therapy for hydration is crucial. And yes check vit D and K if repetitive problems occur. Also, they can have an emotional root cause so sometimes doing emotional work can help!! When in trouble start drinking water, going raw, eliminating all toxicity esp cooked dairy and meet then add in minerals, greens and here’s the kidney cleanse. Take a water melon take out all the black seeds soak them in cup of water over night drink in am everyday with new seeds for 30 days can’t miss a day. The whole point being do it right to begin with and you don’t need to worry!! http://www.totalhealthmasteryusa.com Great life saving info!! http://www.definingbeeauty.com (Royal Jelly Anit Aging) http://www.unwindwithwendy.com (Hypno Emo Massage & Professional Natural Health Consulting) GOOD LUCK!!

  3. Debbie says:

    My husband has suffered with kidney stones for 30 years. Tried everything until 2 years ago a ER doctor told us to research Magnesium and Kidney Stones. There is a lot of studies on magnesium combined with vitamin B6. Thought it was worth a try. Kidney stones are not gone, but have drastically slowed down. He has not been to the hospital since. For those still suffering, I encourage you to research this. It could help you like it did my husband!

  4. Christina Hodge says:

    Hi everyone, I am 32 & have been experiencing KIDNEY STONES & THEIR EXCRUCIATING PAIN since the age of 15….YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT….OVER HALF MY LIFE I HAVE BEEN HAVING KIDNEY STONES….I have had SOOOOO MANY LITHOTRIPSIES THAT I HAVE NOW LOST COUNT….LOL I have ALSO experienced the pain that ALOT of you talk about that doctors TRY TO CONVINCE US ISN’T POSSIBLE & ISN’T THERE… THE PAIN IN ONE OR BOTH KIDNEYS….WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE STONES INSIDE YOUR KIDNEY & SUPPOSEDLY THOSE STONES ARE ABSOLUTELY PAINLESS….. WELLLLLL….I HAVE NEWS FOR EVERRRRYONE…. INCLUDING THESE SO CALLED DOCTORS….. KIDNEY STONES HURT NOOOOO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE INYOUR URINARY SYSTEM….AND THAT PAIN ISN’T FUN AT ALLLLLL!!!!!! I ALSO have been diagnosed with MEDULLARY SPONGE KIDNEY….A CONGENITAL KIDNEY DISEASE THAT CAUSES SEVERE PAIN, MANNNNY KIDNEY STONES & FREQUENT UTILITY INFECTIONS FOR ME & MOST OTHERS WITH THIS DISEASE ALSO!!!!! EVERYONE PLEASE LOOK UP THIS DISEASE….YOU MAY VERY WELL HAVE IT & IT COULD BE A VERY BIG PART OF YOUR KIDNEY STONE PRODUCTION OR IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANY STONES AT THE TIME…IT COULD STILL BE THE CAUSE OF YOUR EXCRUCIATING EVERRRRY DAY CHRONIC PAIN!!!!!

  5. Christina Hodge says:

    Hi everyone, I am 32 & have been experiencing KIDNEY STONES & THEIR EXCRUCIATING PAIN since the age of 15….YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT….OVER HALF MY LIFE I HAVE BEEN HAVING KIDNEY STONES….I have had SOOOOO MANY LITHOTRIPSIES THAT I HAVE NOW LOST COUNT….LOL I have ALSO experienced the pain that ALOT of you talk about that doctors TRY TO CONVINCE US ISN’T POSSIBLE & ISN’T THERE… THE PAIN IN ONE OR BOTH KIDNEYS….WHEN YOU ONLY HAVE STONES INSIDE YOUR KIDNEY & SUPPOSEDLY THOSE STONES ARE ABSOLUTELY PAINLESS….. WELLLLLL….I HAVE NEWS FOR EVERRRRYONE…. INCLUDING THESE SO CALLED DOCTORS….. KIDNEY STONES HURT NOOOOO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE INYOUR URINARY SYSTEM….AND THAT PAIN ISN’T FUN AT ALLLLLL!!!!!! I ALSO have been diagnosed with MEDULLARY SPONGE KIDNEY….A CONGENITAL KIDNEY DISEASE THAT CAUSES SEVERE PAIN, MANNNNY KIDNEY STONES & FREQUENT UTILITY INFECTIONS FOR ME & MOST OTHERS WITH THIS DISEASE ALSO!!!!! EVERYONE PLEASE LOOK UP THIS DISEASE….YOU MAY VERY WELL HAVE IT & IT COULD BE A VERY BIG PART OF YOUR KIDNEY STONE PRODUCTION OR IF YOU DON’T HAVE ANY STONES AT THE TIME…IT COULD STILL BE THE CAUSE OF YOUR EXCRUCIATING EVERRRRY DAY CHRONIC PAIN!!!!!

    • Christina Hodge says:

      I ALSO am currently having BLOOD IN MY URINE (WITH NO EXPLANATION ) according to some of the SO called doctors AROUND here in TENNESSEE!!!!! :(

  6. Shannon A says:

    Wow! You guys and gals certainly help me to have a little peace of mind. So many of your experiences are exactly like my own. When you have continual attacks, with severe pain, blood in the urine, but no resulting stone, it gets really scary. But it seems many of you are feeling the same thing. I passed two very large stones since June, but have had attack after attack (not quite as painful) about every two to three weeks. I’m sick of it. It really stops you in your tracks, and I don’t want to become dependent on pain meds. I agree to exercise, I jump on small trampoline, and massage my abdomin, drink lots of beer!! Just wonder what these continued attacks are about with no resulting stone, unless they are just smaller ones.

  7. Ci Ci says:

    I went to the E.R.in July 2014. I was diagnosed with two major kidney infections on one kidney and extreme dehydration. What they didn’t tell me at that time, was that both kidneys were full of kidney stones. I went to a Urologist who tested my calcium levels, vitamin D levels and ran a parathyroid test. They also had to do lithotripsy on me in October 2014 to break up the larger kidney stones. I’m drinking organic lemon juice w/water to help prevent. In February 2015 , my Urologist sent me to do a parathyroid scan because my stones were calcium based. This scan confirmed that I have at least 1benign tumor on my parathyroid gland causing the elevated calcium levels in my blood & in my urine and causing the stones plus multiple other issues!!! So my advice to everyone is to have their calcium levels checked and if high, run a parathyroid test followed by a scan if tests are positive. This is for both male and females. Also, if you have the symptoms but the parathyroid scan is negative, you can still have a benign tumor(s) on your parathyroid glands. I am having a 20 minute surgery by Dr. Norman in Tampa, Florida very soon to cure this.Good luck! I hope I have helped someone with this knowledge! :-)

  8. Tanya H. says:

    Forgot to mention i also have had large amounts of hematuria in my urine for the past year and a half… every time i do a urine test it’s there. They say they don’t know what’s causing it or what’s causing pain, guess i need to find a second opinion, i love my urologist she’s so sweet but i’m getting nowhere with this and it’s so frustrating to me!!

  9. Tanya H. says:

    I have stones about 2mm in size in both kidneys,they tell me there’s about 3-4 in each. I’ve had cystoscopy done a year ago said i had interstitial cystitis. I’ve had many stones that i’ve passed off and on for about 5-6 years. But the stones i have in the kidneys now are causing severe pain,doctors are telling me no they shouldn’t be causing pain and my urologist says same thing. i’m at a loss suffering with this pain! I’ve been hospitalized many times for GI problems but i feel some of the issues are from the stones obviously i’m no doctor but i know my body and know when I’m in pain. Very frustrating when docs tell you your pain is not caused by something you know or feel it is!!

    • Shannon A says:

      Hi Tanya, I’m having the exact experience as you. I’ve passed two very large stones, but have continued to have kidney stone attacks and pain with no resulting stones. Thought it might be diverticulitis attacks, but confirmed it’s still kidney problems. So frustrated with this continual pain. I seem to have one stuck in the ureter low left side that is driving me crazy. Has anything worked for you?

  10. dave roxbury says:

    in severe pain again after years with kidney stones ,nd just trying to get through this week and get a CT scan on Tuesday and see the doctor Wednesday ,if I can hold out till then . good luck to all of you that are suffering !!!!!! HAPPY EASTER!! I think

  11. 2manystones says:

    I have multiple small stones in both kidneys I’ve been having pain and blood in urine off and on for 8 months! Has anyone else had bleeding for this long? I will sometimes go a few weeks without pain and bleeding and then it starts again. My urologist has done an ultrasound, CT scan, cystoscopy and a cytology exam of urine. No other explanation of bleeding except stones. I drink lots of water and don’t know what else to do. Doctor says they are small and shouldn’t hurt so much.

    • New2stones says:

      I have multiple stones and in both kidneys. Also 1 stuck in my ureter that they are going to remove in a couple of weeks. I have been having pain as long as I can remember and bleeding off and on for the last 5 years. Just had a CT scan last month and they found the stones. Prior to this I was constantly being diagnosed with UTI and being put on antibiotics. There is a lot of pain involved. For me it isn’t constant but when it hurts, it hurts a lot. I liken it to labor pains only because it seems to come it waves and that’s how I deal with it. There have been times where I had to use my Lamaze breathing and just hope that I could keep it together long enough to make it to urgent care or the ER.

  12. jackeline says:

    I was diagnose first with hematuria in urine about two years ago! And lower back pain. And I had a crazy scan done again this year and i have a couple tiny stones in right kidney. Have any you guys had hematuria in urine? Since the urology wants check my bladder even though he kno i got stones and I’m only 23 when first diagnose with hematuria

  13. ga says:

    I had two very small lower pole stones removed three weeks ago by uteroscopy. Previously, my urologist tried the same procedure but my uterers were too narrow so I had a stent for three months to dialate them and the second procedure was successful. I had pain from the stones for almost a year.

    I had some very minor complications as I had severe vomiting after coming home so couldn’t keep down the pain meds. This was resolved after a same day visit to the ER.

    Flank pain gradually subsided but the last several days it has returned but nothing like before the surgery.

    Could I have residual pain because of the length of time the stones were in my kidney? What about inflammation? If so, how long can this last?

    I do see my urologist this week for my post op appointment. I had to reschedule the first post op appointment, so I am seeing him at a later date than I would have wished.

    Anyone else experience this?

    Replies appreciated.

  14. Gary says:

    I am a paraplegic and have been diagnosed with a nonobstructing stone in my right kidney. The doctors say I am not supposed to have pain related with this stone because of two reasons. One I am a paraplegic and cannot feel below my chest and two because the stone is nobstructing. My problem is I have constant pain in my right side going down into my scrutum. I can apply pressure to my right side where the kidney is and cause the pain to subside some but it is all ways there.
    Has anyone experianced what I am feeling or know how I can tell if the pain I feel is from the stone or something else?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Gary,
      I just had a 20mm stone removed from my kidney, it was a Staghorn stone, also non-obstructing. I’ve had pain for the past 18 mos in my right mid-lower abdomen, it would last several days then subside, but always returned, and there more often than not. Because it wasn’t presenting as typical kidney stone pain none of the doctors thought to check my kidney, they told me it was probably gas, constipation, menstrual cramps, etc. Last month the pain became worse and I was sent for an ultrasound of my gallbladder, which was clear, so the ultrasound tech said she was going “look around a bit”. Thank goodness she did, because she found the cause of my pain that none of the doctors considered!
      You know better than anyone if you’re having pain, regardless of whether or not you’re “supposed to”. After my experience I really encourage you to pursue this issue. The urologist who finally treated me explained that eventually the stone would cause enough damage that I would loose my kidney. That seemed reason enough to remove it. I can’t tell you if the stone is causing your pain or something else is the cause (although we can probably rule out the menstrual cramps). I wish you all the best – and isn’t this kinda good news that you have sensation below your chest?!

  15. 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

  16. 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

    • jackeline says:

      Does your urine comes out with hematuria? Like red blood cells when you go tp your doctor they can Only see it

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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

  20. Dawn Wessel says:

    Have your vitamin d and k levels checked.

  21. 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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