Kidney stones are the classic example of reflex organ pain. Kidney stones hurt. They hurt beyond belief. If you’ve had them you know what I mean. This is not a common complaint, but when it happens it is staggering. If you have sudden severe and unrelenting or recurring with no apparent reason back pain, it may be kidney stones.

Your kidneys are tucked up under your ribcage, the right one being a bit lower than your left on account of your liver. Stones form in the calix, the part that of your kidney that then becomes your ureter, the tube between your kidney and your bladder. Once the stone moves from the calix, where there’s a fair bit of room, into the thin tight ureter, problems with pain suddenly occur.


These ‘stones’ can be irregularly shaped – more like a large snowflake than a smooth stone you might find in a river. Once they move into the uereter they can cause agonising pain.


It is several inches from your kidneys to your bladder and that journey can be some of the worst hours, days or weeks of your life. This is one of the worst pains you can experience. You may sweat profusely, be incapacitated, collapse, pass out or even think that you are about to die. It can be that bad.


If you get sudden relief, the stone may have passed into your bladder. Wonderful as that relief maybe, it is not necessarily the end of the story. You have 2 ureters that run from your kidneys to your bladder. You have 1 urethra that runs from your bladder to the outside world. Male urethras are much longer than females, for fairly obvious reasons. A kidney stone has to travel down your urethra before it is ‘passed’. This too can be an agonizing experience, matched only by the passing through your ureter. This is how most stones are gotten rid of.

Hard to Localize

The pain can be felt as a hard to localize abdominal pain or back pain, usually isolated to one side or the other of the lower back. The way to diagnose this problem is with an ultrasound or CT scan.


The initial treatment is with antispasmodic drugs such as buscopan or baclofen, muscle relaxants such as diazepam (valium, ducene etc). Straight painkillers often help, but the pain can be so bad that nothing much touches it. There is also low frequency ultrasound that smashes the stones into teeny little pieces that are easier to pass, or in the worst cases, surgical removal.

Actually, I guess the worst case scenario is not having them surgically removed when you needed it. No magic stretches for this one, I’m afraid. Tough it out with the wheat bag, hot water bottle and drugs and it often settles right down. If not, get back to your doctor.