Kidney Stone Removal Surgery

Types of Kidney Stone Removal Surgery

Kidney stone removal surgery has come a long way in the last three decades. And even though most people refer to any method of removing a kidney stone as "surgery," some methods probably shoulodn't be considered surgery in the traditional sense because they are non-invasive. In other words, some types of so called kidney stone removal surgery don't require surgery at all.

The goal of this article is to familiarize those who have no medical training or background with the basics of kidney stone removal surgery.

Kidney stone removal surgery involving invasive techniques is rarely done nowadays. Invasive kidney stone removal surgery is only done in cases where other approaches have failed.

kidney stone removal surgeryKidney stone removal surgery of any kind should only be considered when a kidney stone:

  • hasn't passed after a reasonable time and is causing constant pain, 
  • is too big to pass through the urinary tract or is lodged in a difficult place, 
  • is blocking urine flow, 
  • is causing ongoing urinary tract infection, 
  • is damaging kidney tissue or causing constant bleeding. 

The picture to the above right shows an x-ray of a large kidney stone inside the body.

The most common types of kidney stone removal "surgery" are listed below.

ESWL kidney stone removal surgery

ESWL, which stands for extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, is a procedure that dissolves a kidney stone and makes the remaining "grains" easier to pass through the urinary tract. Doctors use a machine that generates a shock wave which travels harmlessly through the skin and tissues, but breaks the stone into many, many smaller pieces.

There are a number of different kinds of ESWL devices used for kidney stone removal. One such device transmits the shock waves as the patient reclines in a water bath. Other devices are placed against a soft cushion next to the patient's body.

Anesthesia is generally required for EWSL, but the procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis. Most people are able to resume normal activities in several days.

Sometimes the kidney stone is not completely shattered, requiring more than one treatment.

ESWL may not be the most suitable kidney stone removal surgery for certain kinds of stones, especially those that are unusually large.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy

This type of kidney stone removal surgery that's often used when stone is too big or is seated in a place where ESWL would be ineffective.

A surgeon begins this operation by making a small incision in the back. An instrument called a nephroscope locates the kidney stone and the doctor removes it.

Patients can expect to stay in the hospital for a few days when percutaneous nephrolithotomy is done. A small tube called a nephrostomy tube is usually left in the kidney temporarily while it heals.

In some cases, percutaneous nephrolithotomy provides a better option than EWSL because there's more certainty that the entire stone has been removed. No fragments are left behind.


Although ESWL is generally effective with some kidney stones in the ureters, a procedure called ureteroscopy may work better for mid-and-lower ureter stones.

In this type of kidney stone removal surgery, the doctor uses a small fiberoptic instrument called a ureteroscope. It passes through the urethra and bladder into the ureter. Once the stone is located, it's removed with a cage-like "basket." The surgeon might also shatter the stone it with a special instrument that creates shock wave.

An incision is not necessary.


Learn more about how to cope with kidney stones by clicking here or on the book cover below.