Shockwave Therapy for Kidney Stones

Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy is a nonsurgical treatment for kidney stones. Kidney stone extracorporeal shockwave therapy uses high-energy waves to break kidney stones into tiny pieces that can then be passed with urine. 

Most patients are free of stones within three months of treatment. Those with stones in the kidney and upper ureter have the most success with this treatment.

We use kidney stone extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy to remove stones that:

  • Are too large to pass
  • Cause constant pain
  • Block the flow of urine
  • Cause an ongoing infection
  • Damage kidney tissue
  • Cause bleeding

Fragments too large to pass after the procedure can be treated with lithotripsy a second time.

Kidney Stone Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy: How It Works

Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. Shock waves pass to the stones in two ways:

  • Water bath immersion — You will sit in a tub of lukewarm water
  • Soft cushion — You will sit on soft cushions on top of a table

Your doctor uses X-rays or ultrasound to locate the stone. Your doctor will position your body accordingly and send shock waves through the stones until they're crushed into tiny pieces.

The procedure lasts between 45-60 minutes. You may experience some pain and discomfort as you pass the broken stones, and you may have some bruising on the area treated. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage your pain.  

Recovery After Extracorporeal Shockwave Procedure

You'll be able to move almost immediately after the procedure and will likely be able to resume daily activities within 1-2 days. Drink plenty of water in the weeks after the procedure to help the stone pieces pass.

Shockwave Therapy: Possible Complications

Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Bruising in the back or abdomen
  • Pain as the stone fragments pass
  • Failure to pass stone fragments
  • Need for additional treatments
  • Reaction to anesthesia

Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Bleeding disorders or taking medications that reduce blood clotting
  • Obesity
  • Skeletal deformities

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.