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Kidney Stones Are Excruciatingly Painful, But Where the Pain Comes from Is a Surprise

By Andrew Alpin, 16 October 2022

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8 If it’s not the stone, what is hurting so badly?

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If a kidney stone is big enough, it can get stuck in the narrow ureter, causing urine to build up behind it. Since the urine has nowhere to go, it puts more and more pressure on the narrow ureter and the kidney. This makes the tissues stretch out like a balloon.

Averch says that the pain people feel when they have kidney stones is caused by this stretching. Averch explains, “You feel it in your back first, and then it can radiate around the front and down to the groin. It’s pretty excruciating for most.”

If it’s not the stone, what is hurting so badly

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7 Tissue swelling is excruciatingly painful

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Different nerves in the body can sense things like touch and temperature. Averch says that your kidneys and ureter, like your intestines, bladder, and bowels, have nerves that can sense swelling or expansion. A bowel blockage is also very painful, but kidney stones happen much more often.

Tissue swelling is excruciatingly painful

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6 Kidney stone pain comes and goes

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Averch says that the pain from kidney stones is “colic” because it comes and goes in waves. This is because the ureter uses peristalsis, which is the movement of muscles in waves, to move urine from the kidney to the bladder in groups or packets. If the path is blocked, the pressure goes up every time the ureter squeezes unintentionally, and the pain worsens.

Kidney stone pain comes and goes

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5 What does passing a stone feel like?

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Both women and men have a tube called the urethra that leads from the bladder to the outside of the body. Averch also says that people often think that passing a kidney stone through the urethra is the most painful part of having one. That’s the part that Averch’s male patients definitely worry about the most. But, Averch says most of these fears are unfounded.

Averch explains, “The urethra, in men and women, is much wider than the ureter — almost twice the size. Patients will frequently say to me, ‘Oh, I’ll know when I pee it out.’ Often, they actually don’t.”

What does passing a stone feel like

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