Roller coaster therapy

Ride a roller coaster, pass a kidney stone?

David Wartinger, DO made an effective 3D renal model to show how a roller coaster can aid in the expulsion of kidney stones.


A patient’s Disney World vacation led Michigan urologist David Wartinger, DO, on an unlikely quest to spare kidney stone patients the agony of an acute attack.

The patient reported passing a stone each of the three times he rode the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney World in Orlando, prompting Dr. Wartinger to investigate whether thrill ride forces can jar small, asymptomatic stones out of the body. His findings, published in the JAOA’s October issue, indicate that moderate roller coasters like the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can cause spontaneous passage of small stones, while patients with larger stones could wind up in the emergency department.

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Osteopathic curiosity meets 3D technology

It’s widely accepted that patients can knock kidney stones loose, but the details of these events are poorly understood. To learn more, Dr. Wartinger and his co-author, Marc Mitchell, DO, created a renal model of a human kidney to learn what activities might dislodge stones and under what circumstances. The renal model, built from a CT urogram of a patient with chronic kidney stones, was filled with urine and actual kidney stones were inserted in the calyxes of the model.

“When the structure of the kidney is too small to pass a stone, the stone blocks up the plumbing which has a physiological effect on the kidney. Having an exact replica of a kidney that has passed stones allowed us to take real human kidney stones and manipulate them into a different calyx of the kidney,” says Dr. Wartinger. “For urologists, the structure is very intimately linked to the function, as it should be for all osteopathic physicians.”

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With his model zipped up in a backpack, Dr. Wartinger headed to Disney World where he rode Space Mountain, Rock n’ Roller Coaster, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror before concluding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the best coaster there for passing a stone.

“It was immediately evident the model could not only approximate what happens in the real world, it was also so sensitive that we were able to tell that the rates of passing a stone increase when you ride in the back of the roller coaster,” he explained.

Finding joy in research

Helping people avoid pain, suffering, and surgery drove Dr. Wartinger to become a doctor. Nearly 25 years after becoming a DO, Dr. Wartinger says he made the best discovery of his career in the last five minutes of it.

After leaving his surgical practice due to a neck injury, Dr. Wartinger began teaching at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and was asked to give a lecture at the Michigan Osteopathic Association’s Spring Scientific Research Exhibit in May. Impulsively, he decided to create a research poster from his roller coaster experiments and was surprised when it captured the 1st place prize.

With his passion renewed, Dr. Wartinger is creating a diverse selection of model kidneys for additional research. The next generation models, which will cost $8 each to 3D print at MSU’s library, can lead to further insights on which patients can be helped with a dose of “roller coaster therapy.”

“What I need to do now is conduct clinical and prophylactic studies so we can potentially give patients a fun way to prevent pain and surgery in the future. Now what’s more osteopathic than that?”

David Wartinger, DO, discovered that riding a rollercoaster helps patients pass kidney stones with a nearly 70 percent success rate. Video provided courtesy of Michigan State University.


  1. Pingback: A Trip to a Roller Coaster Park to Clear Kidney Stones?

    1. Martin

      I passed a stone that I didnt know I had after riding all the coasters at Dollywood. The stone passed several days later. I was on a heavy beer regiment. I’m not sure it makes a difference but there was no pain invovled. I had some discomfort and pressure at times on my left side. It was not diagnosed as a stone. I would be happy to answer a questionnaire.

  2. Herbert Kaufman, DO

    Wish it were possible to forward some of these articles to friends and relatives. My son, who loves roller coasters, and had a stone some years back, would get a kick out of this one.

  3. Lorraine M. Wisniewski

    Congratulations on your discovery, Dr. David Wartinger. Best wishes for continuing further developments to change the world of OD medicine. Anxiously awaiting to hear how many patients will opt for this treatment.

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