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Kidney stone got you down? Ride a roller coaster, study says

Posted October 9

Though some people fear they'll lose their lunch on a roller coaster, a new study suggests a wild ride could help you pass a pesky kidney stone. (Deseret Photo)

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Though some people fear they’ll lose their lunch on a roller coaster, a new study suggests a wild ride could help you pass a pesky kidney stone.

That’s right, the bumps, twists, turns and loops appear to move smaller kidney stones through the body — ultimately providing relief to their host.

Urological surgeon David Wartinger got the idea for his study — published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association’s October issue — when he spoke to a patient who passed a small kidney stone soon after riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster at Disney’s Magic Kingdom over spring break, according to The Atlantic.

An interesting coincidence on its own, but add to the fact that he passed two additional small stones after riding the coaster twice more, and you’ve got yourself a story.

“That was just too powerful to ignore,” Wartinger told the Atlantic. “I’d been hearing these anecdotal stories for a couple years, and then I thought, OK, there’s really something here.”

Armed with stories from other patients who had similar experiences after riding various coasters, Wartinger set off to find out if there really was a link. With the help of a 3-D printer, he created a silicone model of a kidney, then filled it with stones and urine.

The next step was taking his new kidney to the scene of the incident — the happiest place on earth. Wartinger and his colleague flew to the Magic Kingdom to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over and over and over.

“We went to guest services, and we didn’t want them to wonder what was going on — two adult men riding the same ride again and again, carrying a backpack,” he told the Atlantic. “It turned out that the manager that day was a guy who recently had a kidney stone. He called the ride manager and said, do whatever you can to help these guys, they’re trying to help people with kidney stones.”

Taking care to hold the backpack at kidney height, the men marked the position of the stones before and after each ride. It quickly became clear that the stones were much more likely to pass if the rider chose a spot in the back of the coaster.

“There was a lot more whipping around in that rear car,” Wartinger said.

When all was said and done, Wartinger and his colleague — Dr. Marc A. Mitchell, braved the ride more than 230 times. Overall, they experienced a 70-percent passing rate, CNN reported.

“There’s nothing fancy, nothing difficult to understand,” Wartinger told CNN. “This is just a very mechanical phenomenon. Basically, a kidney stone is a rock. And it is lodged in the physical passageways inside the kidney. It’s simply about finding the right amount of shaking and rattling to get it through.”

Though the theory requires further testing — preferably with human subjects — Wartinger said the “roller coaster treatment” could benefit those who have small stones.

“The idea is, you want to pass them when they are little, not when they are big,” he said. “If you have a stone that’s 4 millimeters or smaller, it should be able to pass without needing surgery and without too much discomfort.”

More than 300,000 people end up in the emergency room with kidney stones each year, according to the study.

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.

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