Health Library
Kidney Injuries

What is a Kidney Injury?

A child's kidney is more likely to be injured than an adult's kidney because there is less protection from the bones and muscle around it.

A kidney injury can happen after a car crash, fall, bike wreck, or any activity that causes a hard blow to the abdomen or back. A penetrating kidney injury can be caused by a gunshot, knife, or other sharp object that cuts or tears the kidney.

Function of the Kidneys

Each person has two kidneys, that are located on either side of the spine, behind the intestines and just above the waist.

The kidneys clean the blood by filtering out waste materials and getting rid of any water the body doesn't need. The liquid waste made by the kidneys is called urine. The kidneys are part of the renal or urinary system. The renal system also includes the ureters, bladder and urethra.

Urine is made in the kidneys and it passes through the ureters. The ureters are small tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. The bladder stores the urine. The urine then goes from the bladder through a tube called the urethra to the outside of the body.

Diagnosis of Kidney Injuries

Children with a kidney injury may have bruising, pain in their back, blood in their urine, or abdominal pain after the trauma or injury. If a kidney injury is suspected, the trauma surgery providers will thoroughly and carefully examine your child. A urinalysis (urine test) will test if there is blood in the urine. X-rays, a computed tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound or blood tests may be done to determine how badly your child's kidney is damaged.

The American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) grades kidney injuries on a scale of 1-5. The grade is determined by the size and location of the injury in the kidney seen on CT scan. Grade 1 is the least severe and 5 is the most severe.

Treatment for Kidney Injuries

Children with grades 1 - 2 kidney injuries may be discharged from the Emergency Department or admitted to the hospital. Children with grades 3-5 kidney injuries may be admitted to the general care unit or to the intensive care unit (ICU). Fortunately, most kidney injuries are treated without surgery. Depending on the grade of injury, treatment can include strict bed rest, nothing to eat or drink for a short period of time, pain control, lab work, and IV fluid hydration. Blood transfusions can sometimes also be necessary. A urologist (urinary system doctor) may also be consulted to help care for your child.

For a large kidney injury, sometimes surgery is needed to stop urine from leaking or to stop the bleeding.

If your child has surgery, they will not be allowed to eat after surgery for some time. However, they will be given an IV (a small tube in their vein) for fluid hydration. They may also have a nasogastric tube (a tube placed through the nose into the stomach) after surgery to keep their stomach empty. Your child will be closely watched in the ICU after surgery for a few days to watch for any bleeding, then moved to the general care unit as healing continues.

Medications and Pain Management

Speak to your trauma surgery provider about medications your child was taking prior to their admission to the hospital and obtain approval to resume home medications. Your child may have some pain or soreness at home.

Give acetaminophen (also known as “Tylenol") for pain. Your child's trauma surgery provider may also write a prescription for stronger pain medication. Give the stronger medication if the pain does not go away one hour after giving Acetaminophen. Follow the directions on the prescription.

Do not give your child NSAIDs or ibuprofen (also known as "Motrin", "Advil", "Aleve", etc.) until the trauma surgery provider says that it is okay. Your child may require a stool softener while taking prescription pain medication to prevent constipation and straining with bowel movements. .

Wound and Skin Care

Your child may shower or take a bath, but they may need help for several days after going home.

If you child has had surgery, check with your trauma surgery provider about taking a shower or bath. Follow instructions given by your trauma surgery provider regarding any other injuries or wounds.

Activity After a Kidney Injury

Your child does not need to stay in bed but should walk and play quietly while they heal. They may return to school in two to seven days, but your child will be on strict activity restrictions for some time. Strict activity restrictions include no gym, running, activities with wheels, or any activity in which both feet leave the ground at the same time. Your child should not participate in any competitive / contact sports until the activity restriction time period is complete. The length of activity restrictions will depend on the grade of the kidney injury.

Returning to Daycare or School

Your child may require some time off school to be at home to rest. Your trauma surgery provider will give you recommendations regarding going back to school. If surgery was needed or your child has other injuries, they may be out of school longer. At school, your child should not be taking gym class until the activity restriction time period is complete. 

When to Call Your Trauma Surgery Provider

Call the trauma clinic or seek medical attention if your child has:

  • Increased or worsening abdominal pain
  • Fever higher than 100.5
  • Difficulty with bowel movements
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • A fast heart rate
  • Concern for wound infection (redness, swelling, pus drainage, or increased wound pain).

Emotional Recovery

After the injury, your child may be tired and irritable. It takes time to heal. Use this time for rest and quiet activities. Have your child play board games, read or do small craft projects for short periods of time.

Infants and toddlers are harder to distract and will be more difficult to confine. Try putting your infant or toddler in a large crib or playpen. Ask family and friends to visit, but for short periods of time and not at the same time to minimize activity.

After any trauma children may experience acute stress symptoms that may be reflective of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you notice your child having nightmares, flashbacks, nervousness, irritability or any other concerning emotional symptoms, please speak with the trauma surgery provider. Short-term therapy can be provided to help children heal and recover emotionally after a trauma. If concerned, call the Trauma Clinic 513-636-8556.

Follow Up / Contact Us

All children with a kidney injury will have a follow-up call or be seen in the Trauma Clinic one or two weeks after discharge. If needed, an appointment will be made for you before you leave the hospital, or you will be given a number to call to make an appointment. The trauma clinic number is 513-636-8556.

Your child will be scheduled for a kidney ultrasound in four to six weeks. Your child should have yearly blood pressure checks with their pediatrician.

Preventive Action

It is very important to teach your child about all types of safety. Make sure your child is secured in an age-appropriate restraint every time they ride in a vehicle. Children under 13 are safer in a backseat in the correct restraint. For questions or to schedule a car seat safety check, please call 513-803-7433.

Make sure your child wears the correct helmet when riding a bike, using other wheeled toys, or participating in other active sports.

For more injury prevention tips and resources visit our Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center webpage.

Last Updated 06/2023

Reviewed By Melissa Williams, RN

Who treats this.

The Trauma Clinic provides follow-up care to traumatically injured children.