It’s normal to experience some pain around the site of your incision in the weeks after kidney removal. Some people have pain that persists for more than 3 months after their procedure.

A nephrectomy is an extensive but potentially lifesaving procedure that involves the removal of a kidney. Despite playing an important role in treating kidney disease, it can lead to long-term side effects such as chronic pain.

You may have a kidney removed to:

  • treat kidney cancer
  • treat other kidney problems
  • donate a kidney to another person

Each year in the United States, doctors perform about 40,000 nephrectomies to remove a tumor and around 5,500 for kidney donation.

It’s normal to experience some pain around your incisions, especially in the week after your procedure. Some people experience chronic pain, which the International Association for the Study of Pain defines as pain lasting longer than 3 months after a procedure.

In this article, we take a deeper look at what type of pain may develop after a nephrectomy and how long your pain may last.

It’s normal to have some pain around your incisions after a nephrectomy. This pain often improves in 1–2 weeks, but some people develop chronic pain that persists for 3 months or longer.

Rates of chronic pain

In a 2019 study, researchers found that roughly 25% of people who donated a kidney at one hospital in 2011–2017 experienced chronic pain or discomfort. Younger donors and people with longer hospital stays had more symptoms.

Younger age was associated with more pain with the following activities:

  • lying down
  • bending
  • sitting
  • daily activities
  • coughing
  • walking up stairs

In another 2019 study, researchers found that 5.7% of donors who received a laparoscopic nephrectomy at a medical center in the Netherlands in 2003–2016 developed chronic pain.

Here are some types of pain you may develop after your procedure.

Flank pain after nephrectomy

Pain often develops around the incision site where scar tissue forms. One of the most common nephrectomy techniques involves making an incision through your flank.

Back pain after nephrectomy

Back pain can develop after a nephrectomy due to:

  • infection
  • damage to your nerves
  • other complications, like rhabdomyolysis
  • injury to the lower back due to not using core muscles during the recovery period

Nerve pain after nephrectomy

Most cases of postsurgical chronic pain are due to nerve pain. Large and small nerves can sustain damage during your procedure. Pain at rest is a sign that deep nerve structures are damaged.

In a 2018 study, researchers reported a case of genitofemoral nerve injury after laparoscopic nephrectomy. This nerve provides sensation to your upper thigh and the area around your genitals.

Abdominal pain after nephrectomy

Doctors sometimes perform nephrectomies through incisions in your abdomen. You may develop abdominal pain around your incision site if you have this technique.

Glute pain after nephrectomy

In a 2022 study, researchers reported a case of gluteal compartment syndrome after a robotic partial nephrectomy. This syndrome can lead to symptoms around your glutes, such as:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • weakness
  • numbness

Shoulder pain after nephrectomy

Some people experience temporary pain in their shoulders due to a leakage of the carbon dioxide that surgeons pump into the abdominal cavity to make the kidney more visible. This pain usually goes away within a few days.

Many people find that their pain mostly or completely resolves within weeks of their surgery. However, some people have pain that lingers for months to years.

In the 2019 study from the Netherlands, researchers reported the following rates of chronic pain in people with follow-ups in the following periods:

Follow-up timePercentage reporting pain
3 months–2 years12.2%
2–4 years5.2%
4–6 years2.2%
6–8 years6.6%
8–10 years4.8%
10+ years4.3%

If your pain persists, your doctor may recommend:

Other potential complications of nephrectomy include:

Laparoscopic nephrectomy is generally associated with fewer side effects than open surgery.

Here are some frequently asked questions about pain after kidney removal.

What is chronic postsurgical pain after nephrectomy?

Chronic postsurgical pain persists for at least 3 months. Inflammation, tissue and nerve damage, and altered pain processing in your brain are potential causes.

What are the long-term side effects of kidney removal?

One kidney is often just as effective at filtering your blood as two. If the function of your one kidney is compromised, however, you may have symptoms like high blood pressure, blood in your urine, and swelling in your lower body.

Chronic pain after kidney removal may develop for reasons such as nerve damage, inflammation, and scarring. If you do develop chronic pain, your doctor may recommend medications or physical therapy to ease your symptoms.