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Ride a Roller Coaster, Drop a Kidney Stone

Over 300,000 people a year visit the emergency room suffering from kidney stones each year. Treatment can be expensive, from $5,000 to $10,000. There may be an easier and cheaper solution that’s even fun.

A urologist was puzzled when patients told him how riding a roller coaster helped them pass kidney stones. His curiosity was piqued. This led to both a pilot study and an expanded study to determine whether this was fact.

David Wartinger, a professor emeritus in the Department of Osteopathic Surgical Specialties at Michigan State University says,

Basically, I had patients telling me that after riding a particular roller coaster at Walt Disney World, they were able to pass their kidney stone. I even had one patient say he passed three different stones after riding multiple times.

Big Thunder Roller Coaster at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Big Thunder Roller Coaster at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The roller coaster was Big Thunder Mountain at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

To initially test the theory, a pilot study was conducted. Wartinger used a validated, synthetic 3D model of a hollow kidney complete with three kidney stones no larger than 4 millimeters inserted into the replica. He took the model in a backpack while riding Big Thunder Mountain twenty times. His initial results verified patient observations.

A 3D Kidney Model with Stones

A 3D Kidney Model with Stones

Wartinger says,

In the pilot study, sitting in the last car of the roller coaster showed about a 64 percent passage rate, while sitting in the first few cars only had a 16 percent success rate.

The second study was conducted with the assistance of an MSU resident at the time, Mark Mitchell. They rode the same roller coaster with multiple kidney models attached. They discovered that by sitting in the back of the coaster, they had a passage rate of 70 percent. Both studies showed that if the kidney stone was located in the upper chamber of the kidney, the passage rate was 100 percent.

Model of the kidney

Model of the kidney

Wartinger explains,

In all, we used 174 kidney stones of varying shapes, sizes an weights to see if each model worked on the same ride and on two other roller coasters. Big Thunder Mountain was the only one that worked. We tried Space Mountain and Aerosmith’s Rock’n’Roller Coaster and both failed.

The ideal coaster is rough and quick with some twists and turns, but no upside down or inverted movements.

The faster coasters create g-forces that pin the stone to the kidney, not allowing it to pass.

Wartinger is so convinced, he is prescribing roller coaster therapy to patients as a preventative measure. For maintenance, he suggests that patients go on a roller coaster once a year.

Even patients who had kidney stones too large to pass, 5 millimeters or larger, that required lithotripsy can be helped. The problem is lithotripsy can leave remnants in the kidney which can result in another stone. The best way to potentially eliminate this from happening is to try going on a roller coaster after a treatment when the remnants are still small.

Wartinger says,

You need to heed the warnings before going on a roller coaster. If you have a kidney stone, but are otherwise healthy, and meet the requirements for the ride, patients should try it. It’s definitely a lower-cost alternative to health care.

A trip to Disney World is just what the doctor ordered. Think that health insurance will cover the expense?

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