Roller Coaster Therapy for Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones affect approximately 1 in 11 people in the United States, and more than 300,000 people seek emergency treatment for the painful condition every year. Now, according to findings published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, relief from painful kidney stones may be just an amusement park ride away.

Although the findings are preliminary, the new study shows that riding a roller coaster may help small kidney stones pass. Getting rid of stones before they cause an obstruction in the urinary tract can reduce the risk for complications and the need for invasive treatment.

Researchers at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine initiated the study when a series of patients reported passing kidney stones after riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Walt Disney World in Orlando. In one case, a patient said he passed one kidney stone after each of three consecutive rides on the roller coaster.

Intrigued, the researchers decided to test out the theory themselves. First, David D. Wartinger, D.O., and Marc A Mitchell, D.O., co-authors of the study, created a three-dimensional silicone model kidney. Then they filled it with urine and three different-sized kidney stones. They placed the stones in the upper, middle, and lower passageways of the kidney. With permission from the park, the researchers put the model in a backpack and went on 20 rides with the stones in each position in the kidney—for a total of 60 rides.

Some of the testing was done with the model in the front of the roller coaster, and some with it in the back. The front position produced a stone passage rate of 17 percent, while the back of the roller coaster produced a rate of 64 percent.

According to researchers, “roller coaster therapy” may be beneficial for people who are at increased risk for developing kidney stones—including those who have had stones in the past—and patients who have had kidney stones broken up by lithotripsy—to help the fragments pass.

“Passing a kidney stone before it reaches an obstructive size can prevent surgeries and emergency room visits,” Wartinger said in a statement.