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Flank pain

Flank pain is pain in one side of the body between the upper belly area (abdomen) and the back.


Flank pain can be a sign of a kidney problem. But, since many organs are in this area, other causes are possible. If you have flank pain and fever, chills, blood in the urine, or frequent or urgent urination, then a kidney problem is the likely cause. It could be a sign of kidney stones.

Causes of Flank pain

Flank pain may be caused by any of the following:

  • Arthritis or infection of the spine
  • Back problem, such as disk disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Muscle spasm
  • Kidney stone, infection, or abscess
  • Shingles (pain with one-sided rash)
  • Spinal fracture

Home Care

Treatment depends on the cause.

Rest, physical therapy, and exercise may be recommended if the pain is caused by muscle spasm. You will be taught how to do these exercises at home.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and physical therapy may be prescribed for flank pain caused by spinal arthritis.

Antibiotics are used to treat most kidney infections. You will also receive fluids and pain medicine. You may need to stay in the hospital.

When to Contact a Health Professional

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Flank pain along with a high fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting
  • Blood (red or brown color) in the urine
  • Unexplained flank pain that continues

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The doctor or nurse will examine you. You will be asked about your medical history and symptoms, including:

  • Location of the pain
  • When the pain began, if it's always there or comes and goes, if it's getting worse
  • What the pain feels like, such as dull and aching or sharp
  • What other symptoms you have

The following tests may be done:


Ferri FF. Urolithiasis (nephrolithiasis). In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2015. Philadelphia: PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:1205-1207.

Landry DW, Bazari H. Approach to the patient with renal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 114.

McQuaid K. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 132.

Millham FH. Acute abdominal pain. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 11.

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Review Date: 3/5/2015
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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