One of the primary reasons for client visits to clinically oriented massage practices is back pain. Recognizing the signs of kidney inflammation enables therapists to differentiate it from a muscular strain/sprain.

Often mistaken to be tense or strained back muscles, kidney inflammation’s most prominent symptom can be back pain. Three kidney inflammatory conditions that can cause back pain are:

  • Nephritis — kidney infection
  • Renal calculi — kidney stones
  • Polycystic kidneys

When a client complains of back pain, from the lower-thoracic to the mid-lumbar regions, it is important to rule out kidney inflammation. When the kidneys are not functioning optimally, the body’s ability to manage fluid balance is impaired, often resulting in edema. Systemic circulatory massage is inappropriate for these individuals, as it would push more fluid through an already overburdened system. Additionally, if the kidneys are inflamed, they are more susceptible to injury from vigorous massage. The kidneys are vulnerable because they are only partially protected by the rib cage. The right kidney’s location underneath the liver results in its position being slightly lower than the left kidney.

A solid, anatomical understanding of each kidney’s location will contribute to accurate differentiation. The superior border of the kidney reaches the level of the 12th thoracic vertebrae. The inferior border lies just above the horizontal plane of the umbilicus, typically level with the 3rd lumbar vertebrae. The inferior border is one finger breadth superior to the iliac crest. The center of the kidney, where the ureter is attached, is level with the intervertebral disc between the first and second lumbar vertebrae. Therefore, pain originating in the kidney is typically felt in the upper lumbar region and can radiate to the upper right or left quadrant of the abdomen.

A thorough client history and intake is an essential component of safe practice, especially when evaluating back pain. To help the bodyworker identify kidney involvement, the three kidney inflammatory conditions previously listed are explained below.