Kidney Stones? Try Roller Coasters!


Anyone who's suffered a kidney stone just wants the urinary obstruction gone. Now, preliminary research suggests relief might even be fun: a roller coaster ride. Apparently; shaking, twisting and diving from on high could help small stones dislodge themselves from the kidney’s inner maze of tubules.

When your kidneys cannot filter everything...

As some of us sadly know, kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form inside your kidneys. The stones are made of mineral and acid salts.

And the worst scenario happens when the ureter is involved.

When those stones start to travel down the ureter (the tube that attaches each kidney to the bladder), as the ureter is narrow, kidney stones can cause pain as they try to pass through.

You should then, of course be seeing a doctor regularly.

Especially if you have a large kidney stone and experience severe pain or kidney problems, your doctor may refer you to a doctor who treats problems in the urinary tract: a urologist or nephrologist.

Dr. David Wartinger, a professor of urology at the Michigan State University has a very interesting treatment suggestion.

His research team planned the study after several of their patients returned from the theme park announcing they had passed a kidney stone. Finally, one patient reported passing three stones, each one after a ride on a roller coaster.

Wartinger said he got the idea from a patient who said he passed three kidney stones while riding the Orlando coaster.

"It's hard to ignore that kind of a story, no matter how much of a cynic you are," Wartinger said.

To be fair, you can't pin this one on Disney's magic. "We have been hearing stories for years from people who went on vacation, gone to amusement parks, and ended up passing a kidney stone," he said.

So the research began.

Since neither of the two had kidney stones themselves, the pair 3-D printed a life-size plastic replica of the branching interior of a human kidney. Then they inserted three stones and human urine into the model. The stones were of the size that usually pass on their own, generally smaller in diameter than a grain of rice. 

After arriving at the park, Wartinger and Mitchell sought permission from guest services to do the research, fearing that two men with a backpack boarding the same ride over and over might strike workers as being suspect.

“Luckily, the first person we talked to in an official capacity had just passed a kidney stone,” Wartinger says. “He told us he would help however we needed.”

The original study featured results from 20 turns on the ride. However, Wartinger says he and Mitchell have conducted an expanded study during which they and their silicone kidney endured the ride more than 230 times.

Astonishing results!

About 64 percent of the stones in the model kidney cleared out after a spin in the rear car. Only about 17 percent passed after a single ride in the front car, the researchers report in the October Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Wartinger thinks that a coaster with more vibration and less heart-pounding speed would be better at coaxing a stone on its way.

Trying different roller coasters are at stake.

“Some rides are going to be more advantageous for some patients than other rides. So I wouldn't say that the only ride that helps you pass stones is Big Thunder Mountain. That's grossly inaccurate.”

There are other kidney designs to consider, too, as every person’s calyceal system is different, like a fingerprint. But the idea is that if you rode a variety of roller coasters in a short period of time, that would help you pass small stones and lingering sediment before it accumulates into debilitating, costly, and obstructive stones.

Wartinger thinks that a coaster with more vibration and less heart-pounding speed would be better at coaxing a stone on its way.

So roller coasters do work!

"If you have a kidney stone, but are otherwise healthy and meet the requirements of the ride, patients should try it," Wartinger said. "It's definitely a lower-cost alternative to health care."

Lithotripsy is the most current technique for treating stones in the kidney and ureter that does not require surgery.

It is applied through high-energy shock waves that are passed through the body and used to break stones into pieces as small as grains of sand. But it can be quite costly.

So trying roller coaster is not only super fun but also cheaper. 😊

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