Flank pain refers to pain that affects just one side of the body, either the right side or the left side. The pain is usually felt in the area between the rib cage and the pelvis. It is usually localized in most cases, but it can also spread or radiate to other areas in some instances.
Flank pain can be mild or it may be indicative of some severe underlying condition or injury to the area. If the pain subsides within a few days with adequate rest, then there is nothing to worry about. However, flank pain that persists for more than 4 to 5 days needs to be checked by a doctor. Treatment of flank pain is dependent on the cause.
Symptoms of flank pain
- The severity of flank pain is dependent on the underlying causative factors.
- Mild flank pain generally tends to worsen with increased body movements. There are usually no additional symptoms.
- Flank pain associated with kidney conditions is unique. The pain tends to radiate and is often intense. Pain on right side is indicate of problems with the right kidney, while left flank pain may be a sign of left kidney abnormalities.
- In severe cases, flank pain tends to be pricking, stabbing, and sharp. Its intensity does not vary as per the body movements.
- Along with extreme pain, patients may also experience nausea, fever, vomiting, bloody urine, and urination problems.
- Flank pain may extend downwards and result in labia pain in women and testicular pain in men.
Causes of flank pain
Some of the common causes of flank pain are listed below:
- Back abnormalities: Staining of the back muscles due to vigorous physical activity or some kind of severe trauma can cause flank pain. Acute back pain is usually marked by stretching of the muscles between the abdominal and back area. A herniated or slipped disc can exert increased pressure on the adjacent structures, resulting in extreme pain on one side of the body. People with spinal arthritis are most likely to suffer from pain between the back and the abdomen.
- Radiculitis: It is a condition characterized by injury to the thoracic nerve located in the lumbar area. Thus, it directly affects the flank region. Flank pain associated with it is generally very severe. Pain tends to more intense when the muscles between the ribs are affected.
- Kidney diseases: It is one of the most common causes of flank pain. Patients may suffer from a variety of kidney disorders, including pyelonephritis or kidney infection, renal infarction, and kidney stones, etc. Flank pain caused by kidney cancer is usually accompanied by bloody urine. Polycystic kidney disease is a kidney disorder marked by growth of benign sacs in the kidneys. Affected people may elicit symptoms like hypertension, flank pain, recurrent UTIs, and frequent urination, etc., as well as complications like kidney failure.
- Herpes Zoster: The condition is marked by minor burning sensations in the flank area. Lumbar area pain typically occurs after the development of cyst-like vesicles on the skin.
- Urinary tract problems: Flank pain may occur due to urinary tract infections or UTIs. The pain is more prominent when the infection travels to and affects the bladder and/or the kidneys. Flank pain persists till the infection is completely cured. Additional symptoms are fever, nausea, and burning sensations when passing urine, etc. Women are more susceptible to UTIs than men.
- Presence of urethral stones can cause intense pain. The sharp pain occurs due to obstructions posed by the stones to the free elimination of urine via the urethra.
- Muscle spasms: Cramping of the muscles in the flank area can also result in pain. Compress and adequate rest is all that is needed for recovery. Medical treatment is only needed if the cramping and associated pain is extreme.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: They can either be the sole cause of flank pain, or contribute to the pain caused by other conditions. Some of the common gastrointestinal diseases associated with flank pain include IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, food poisoning, and diverticulitis, an infection caused by trapping of bacteria in the colon. The pain typically occurs due to occurrence of prolonged disorientation of the digestive system due to the above listed conditions. Additional symptoms include abdominal discomfort, vomiting, nausea, acid reflux, and lightheadedness, etc.
- Shingles: The eruption of shingles rash at the back is marked by sharp pain in the infected area. The site becomes so sensitive that even minor friction with apparels can lead to excruciating pain. The pain eases only after many weeks when the rash heals.
- Gynecological issues: Flank and pelvic pain can occur due to a condition called endometriosis, wherein a tissue similar to the uterus lining is present in the pelvic cavity. Pain in right side of the flank in pregnant women can be a sign of ectopic pregnancy. It can be checked easily via an ultrasound of the pelvis. Women may sometimes experience flank pain due to ovarian cysts.