What is Flank Pain? The Causes and Symptoms

what is flank painIf describing flank pain, bear in mind that it is a symptom and not an actual condition. Most people experience it at some point as it is very common. So, what is flank pain? It is a pain that starts on one side of the body, usually just below the ribs but above the pelvis. This pain can be both dull or sharp depending on the cause and will sometimes gravitate around to the small of the back.

Most flank pain will not last long but if it becomes aggravated or is prolonged, then it is important that you seek medical advice. There are some serious conditions that can cause this discomfort and so, a diagnosis is important. Understanding what flank pain is and what the possible causes are better equips you in making the decision whether to seek medical help or not.


Learning about the conditions that cause flank pain means you’ll be able to better understand whether the origins of the pain is something to worry about or, whether it can be managed without medical treatment.

Serious conditions that cause flank pain:

  • Kidney stones
  • Appendicitis
  • Bladder infection
  • Cancer
  • Kidney infection

Calcium deposits can easily collect and become too big to pass through the urinary tract. This is by far the most common cause of severe flank pain and results in kidney stones. It can be an excruciating pain that can travel from the pelvis to the groin. It can radiate around to the lower back. Most of the pain is caused when the stone becomes lodged and this may well cause some visible signs in the urine. If you spot blood, then you should seek medical advice.  Kidney stones can result in a secondary problem by creating an infection too.

Appendicitis is still a very serious condition but thanks to modern medical practices not as deadly as it once was a few generations ago. The organ itself seems to have little use in the human body today but is still capable of making its presence known causing severe flank pain. This occurs when infections build up in it causing swelling and possible rupturing. This floods the area with bacteria and this is why an emergency operation is then required.  Rather than rupturing, the appendix can simply leak, and this can cause abscesses to form which are understandably, painful. An abscess can cause a very similar pain to appendicitis.

Bladder infections are mostly caused when bacteria or yeast infect part of the urinary tract. It is more common in women and causes cramping and a pressure that feels similar to bloating. Another symptom can be a burning sensation when passing urine and the urine may be cloudy or foul smelling.

Cancer in the form of renal or bladder can cause severe flank pain, but the symptoms would have built up over a longer period and you would notice extreme tiredness and weight loss. There could also be swelling or incontinence too.

So, the question, ‘what is flank pain?’ leads to many explanations but this should not be a cause to immediately start panicking as most flank pain is caused by strains and knocks that gradually dissipate. Only if the symptoms or pain persists or, if you are concerned about your health, should you seek medical advice.