When a UTI spreads to the kidneys, back pain will likely result.
However, a UTI without kidney involvement can also cause back pain. Why would this be?
You may already know that if a urinary tract infection spreads to the kidneys, this can cause serious complications resulting in permanent kidney damage. It can even be deadly if not treated in time.
When people know this information, and they begin experiencing symptoms that suggest a UTI, they may then start panicking if their back begins hurting – believing that the infection has made its way to the kidneys.
But back pain is also a well-documented symptom of an infection that is still confined to the urinary tract.
This then begs the question: Why can a UTI cause back pain if the kidneys are not involved?
“Lots of medical conditions can cause back pain,” begins Michael Ingber, MD, board-certified in urology and female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, director of urogynecology for Saint Clare’s Health System in northern New Jersey, and founder of The Center for Specialized Women’s Health, division of Garden State Urology.
Thus, if you have back pain along with the classic symptoms of a UTI (e.g., burning with urination, frequent urges to pee), this doesn’t automatically mean the cause of the back pain is whatever’s causing your UTI-suggestive symptoms.
Nevertheless, a UTI alone can definitely cause back pain.
“Kidney stones and kidney infections typically cause severe, one-sided pain that doesn’t go away with changing positions,” continues Dr. Ingber.
“On the contrary, pelvic problems can often result in lower back pain. This can be from pelvic organ prolapse (hernias after childbirth), endometriosis or UTI’s.
“The thought is that this is often ‘referred pain,’ which means the pain is in a different location from its origin. This happens due to the complex intertwining of the sensory nerves in the body.”
Referred pain is a common phenomenon. Anyone with rotator cuff problems knows this.
A strained rotator cuff tendon in the shoulder can cause pain in the upper arm where this tendon is not located.
The most infamous example of referred pain goes to a heart attack or angina: The pain can occur in the shoulder, back, left arm or jaw.
If you have back discomfort at the same time you have new-onset symptoms that suggest a UTI, don’t panic.
But DO see a doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis.
Dr. Ingber is board-certified in Urology and Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery; is a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. The Center for Specialized Women’s Health, division of Garden State Urology & Atlantic Medical Group.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.