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Does Heat Help Kidney Stone Pain? 4 Tips To Relieve The Pain

Heather Freudenthal

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr. Maya Frankfurt, PhD

does heat help kidney stone pain
Learning how to apply heat to help kidney stone pain. Photo: Shutterstock & Team Design

Kidney stones are hard mineral and salt deposits[1] that can develop in the kidneys. Most kidney stones are composed of substances typically found in urine, such as calcium, uric acid, and oxalate. Kidney stones can range in size, from the size of a grain of sand to that of a golf ball.

Kidney stones can stay in the kidneys or travel through the urinary tract, which can cause symptoms such as intense pain[2]. This pain can be felt in the side, below the ribs, in the abdomen, the pelvic region, or in the back.

Applying heat is one, natural way to help alleviate kidney stone pain. This article will explain the various methods for applying heat to help ease pain associated with kidney stones.

Does Heat Help Kidney Stone Pain?

Yes. Heat can help temporarily relieve kidney stone pain. Heat, whether from a heating pad or hot water bottle, can relax muscles and reduce muscle spasms. Applying heat to a painful area can also enhance relaxation and reduce stress and tension.

Can Heat Ease Kidney Stone Pain?

does heat help kidney stone pain
Kidney stone pain can be felt in the lower back. Photo: Shutterstock

There’s a reason why when we’re stressed out or in pain, we’re advised to take a warm bath. Heat has medicinal properties. But, does heat help with kidney stone pain? The answer is yes, in several ways.

Increased Blood Flow

Heat increases blood flow[3] to the affected area. The heat itself causes blood vessels to dilate, which is what brings on more blood flow. With the blood comes more oxygen and nutrients, and this increased circulation also helps clear out waste and toxins, which enhances healing.

Muscle Relaxation

Heat can relax muscles and reduce muscle spasms. With heat, bodily tension and stiffness can be relieved and pain can temporarily subside.

Altered Pain Perception

Heat can alter the way we perceive pain. You may notice this effect when feeling pain in one area and applying heat to another and suddenly you don’t notice the painful area as much. The sensation of heat can override the painful sensations, distracting and comforting us.

Increases Flexibility

Heat softens our muscles and tissue and reduces stiffness[4] in joints, which increases muscular flexibility. With more flexibility comes less tightness, and our range of motion can expand. This can result in less pain.

Tips For Using Heat For Kidney Stone Pain

Warm Compress

A warm compress is any cloth (usually a hand towel) soaked in warm or hot water. Douse the cloth in warm water, or hot water if it’s tolerable for you. Test a small patch of skin to ensure the temperature does not burn your skin.

Find a comfortable position and then apply the wet, warm compress to the affected area. You may need to soak the cloth in warm or hot water again after about twenty minutes, because the cloth will lose some of the heat in that time.

Warm Bath

Draw yourself a warm bath. Make the temperature warm, but not hot to the touch. The goal is to find a temperature that will soothe you, not make you feel worse or inflict more pain.

For additional comfort, put a few drops of rose or lavender essential oil into the water. You can also add bubbles or epsom salts, play your favorite music, and light candles to enhance your relaxation. Sit in the bath for as long as is comfortable for you and adjust the water temperature as needed.

Hot Water Bottle

A hot water bottle is an oval-shaped, flat rubber container (though sometimes made of another similar material) that can hold hot water. Because the hot water bottle is closed, the heat from the water can be felt on the outside of the bottle for a reasonable period of time.

Fill a hot water bottle with either tap water or water from a kettle, then close the cap on the hot water bottle tightly so that no water spills out. Place the hot water bottle directly on the affected area. If it feels too hot, place a cloth in between the bottle and your skin.

Since the water is trapped inside the bottle, it can take several hours before the hot water bottle cools off. When it does, empty out the water and refill the bottle with fresh, hot water.

Electric Heating Pad

Does heat pad help with kidney stone pain? Yes, the heat can come from an electric source and provide as much comfort as a hot water bottle.

Electric heating pads come in many sizes. Use one that feels appropriate for the area you’re treating. Place the heating pad over the painful area and turn it on. Within a few minutes, you should feel heat radiating from the heating pad.

As with all electrical devices, do not keep it on while you are asleep. This is a fire hazard. If you’re prone to falling asleep while a heating pad is on, make sure it has a timer so that it shuts off on its own.

Other Ways To Relieve Kidney Stone Pain

The best remedy for relieving kidney stone pain is to get rid of kidney stones. These treatments range from getting more hydration to having surgery. Once the kidney stone is gone, the pain should subside.

Some people may find apple cider vinegar for kidney stones helpful for dissolving or preventing stones. Apple cider vinegar can be consumed in supplement form, such as the best apple cider vinegar gummies. Prior to trying this home remedy on your own, you should discuss it with your medical provider.

However, until the stones have passed or been removed, the pain is likely to continue. Here are other methods to alleviate pain, aside from applying heat.

Meditation

Meditation has been used in many cultures for thousands of years to help mitigate and distract from pain. The fundamental principle of mediation is to bring your mind into stillness, into the here and now. 

Often when people feel pain, it is amplified by worries. People worry about the origin of the pain, and about when the pain will go away. Meditation can help bring the mind into the present moment, separating you from physical and psychological pain.

Pain Medication

With your doctor’s approval, you can take over-the-counter pain medication, such as Tylenol or Advil to temporarily relieve pain.

It’s important, though, to be aware that both these medications can pose harmful side effects. In particular, Tylenol can damage the liver[5] and Advil can cause gastrointestinal bleeding[6] and should be avoided in people with kidney disease. These risks increase with long-term use.

However, if you and your doctor feel it is safe to take these medications for a short amount of time while you wait for the kidney stone to pass, then this may be a suitable option for you.

Hydration

Staying hydrated can help alleviate pain, as well as facilitate the passage of a kidney stone. Be sure to drink enough water, not just on days you feel more pain, but everyday. How much water should you drink a day? Between 9-13 glasses.

Massage

Massage can help alleviate pain by relaxing muscles and bodily tension. You may prefer that a friend, partner, or professional perform a massage on you. Be sure to communicate where you feel the pain. Depending on the severity, you may wish for the painful area to be massaged or avoided entirely.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which involves placing tiny needles on specific points along the body’s meridians (energy pathways). When these points are stimulated, it is believed that the body’s vital energy (Qi), which may have been blocked, can flow better through the meridians, which then facilitates healing and pain relief[7].

Acupuncture can help relieve pain by stimulating nerve endings, which can send signals to the brain to release certain neurotransmitters and endorphins, which act as natural painkillers. This process can also modulate how we experience pain and increase blood circulation, all of which can reduce pain.

Conclusion

Kidney stone pain can be difficult to deal with. While you’re waiting for the stone to pass (or be removed by a doctor), you may find yourself in need of pain relief. Heat, whether from a warm bath, a heating pad, or a hot water bottle, can provide temporary pain relief.

Applying heat may provide other complimentary benefits, such as muscle relaxation and mental calmness. Applying heat to a painful area is relatively safe for most people, it can be done at home, and there’s no limit to how much or how often. The only thing to be mindful of is the temperature,the heat should be warm enough to soothe, but not hot enough to burn you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to use an electric heating pad for pain relief? 

Yes, although any electrical device can pose the potential of an electric shock, especially if it comes into contact with water. It can also be a fire hazard if left on too long. To be on the safe side, only use an electric heating pad away from water and for short periods of time while you are awake.

What if I have severe pain and it doesn’t go away with heat?

If heat does not help ease the pain, there are other methods you can try, such as over-the-counter pain relieving medications, meditation, acupuncture, and massage.

Do I need my doctor’s permission to use heat for my kidney stone pain?

No, using heat to relieve pain is relatively safe for most people. However, if you have a particular concern about it, consult with your healthcare provider.


+ 7 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Khan, S.R., Pearle, M.S., Robertson, W., Gambaro, G., Canales, B.K., Steeve Doizi, Olivier Traxer and Hans-Göran Tiselius (2016). Kidney stones. [online] 2(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/nrdp.2016.8.
  2. and, D. (2023). Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Stones. [online] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kidney-stones/symptoms-causes
  3. Wang, Y., Zhu, K., Wang, J. and Yang, L. (2019). Numerical simulation of heat induced flow-mediated dilation of blood vessels. [online] 84, pp.323–330. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2019.07.022.
  4. Nakano, J., Cristiane Yamabayashi, Scott, A. and W. Darlene Reid (2012). The effect of heat applied with stretch to increase range of motion: A systematic review. [online] 13(3), pp.180–188. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2011.11.003.
  5. Nih.gov. (2016). Acetaminophen. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548162/#:~:text=Harmless%20at%20low%20doses%2C%20acetaminophen,cause%20transient%20serum%20aminotransferase%20elevations.
  6. Chang, R.-I., Tompkins, D.M. and Cohn, S.M. (2020). Are NSAIDs Safe? Assessing the Risk-Benefit Profile of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug Use in Postoperative Pain Management. [online] 87(6), pp.872–879. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0003134820952834.
  7. A. Coutaux (2017). Non-pharmacological treatments for pain relief: TENS and acupuncture. [online] 84(6), pp.657–661. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbspin.2017.02.005.‌
Heather Freudenthal

Medically reviewed by:

Maya Frankfurt

Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Wellness Writer with a holistic and functional medicine/root cause mindset. My writing style is engaging, relatable, and educational, designed to help readers digest and relate to complex topics in nutrition, gut health, hormone health, mental health, and spiritual health, then inspire them to take action.

Medically reviewed by:

Maya Frankfurt

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