Massage therapists are often in a difficult position; western medical diagnosis is beyond their scope of practice, yet awareness and recognition of medical disorders is crucial to their client’s well-being and safety. Mistaking kidney inflammation for a muscular strain can result in inappropriate therapy. Learn how to detect kidney inflammation masquerading as back pain, and what to do about it.

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.

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  • Corne vd Linde

    I thank you for the great info on kidney pain and location of it for I’m in hospital currently with a pain started in my lower back last night and couldn’t take it anymore by 01:00 this morning. My wife brought me to hospital and they assisted me through all the procedures. A certain “Dr” who treated me told me that I have backpain, not kidney pain! I was upset with his diagnosis and Googled it because he asked me where the pain is, I showed him and he differed from me. I thank you.

  • LM Jones

    FYI for PKD, it’s not the size of the cysts but the location that affect function. A lot of time, the larger cysts cause a great deal of discomfort, especially when they burst (excruciating pain is more accurate here), but it’s the smaller ones inside that impair function. The rest of your information is accurate, although there remain doctors who continue to hold there is no pain with PKD. They’re wrong, but they won’t let it go.

    For anyone else w/PKD who may be reading: A good massage from someone who knows what they’re doing is amazing. Get the hypertension under control. Drink water *immediately* after. Take some with you if you don’t know if you can get some at the masseuse’s office.

  • Somaira Azam

    Correct, those stones are called stag-horn stones. For these stones lithotripsy — breaking down the stones to tiny particles with the help of laser beams. Finally those particles are passed in urine. Depending on the nature and composition of stones either alkalization or acidification of urine to facilitate the dissolution of these particles.

  • Somaira Azam

    Pravulal, your case presentation is pretty comprehensive. But for the the next time with the pain of this severity you seek doctor’s advise as soon as possible. Wish you safe and speedy recovery.

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