Got kidney stones? It may be time to visit Disney World

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

Breakthrough medical treatments come in many shapes and forms. There seem to be new studies our each week telling us to drink this tea, eat this berry and do this form of yoga to cure all that ails us.

But never before have I come across research that requires you to buy a ticket to a place like Disney World to reap its benefits.

According to investigators at Michigan State University, hopping aboard a medium-intensity roller coaster could help painlessly dislodge kidney stones. The research, which was published Sunday in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, found the benefits are greater for those riding in the back, with an average passage rate of 65%, compared to 17% for those thrill seekers sitting up front.

Before you jump on the “Who paid for THAT study?!” bandwagon, know that this research wasn't borne from some scientist's Nyquil-induced fever dream.

A few of lead researcher David Wartinger's, DO, JD, patients came into his office and shared the same wacky update on their conditions: Their kidney stones seemed to pass without the typical excruciating pain after riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Orlando's Disney World theme park. One patient said he passed a kidney stone after each of the three rides he took on the coaster.

How exactly does one test that? First, Wartinger told Disney World what was happening so park security wouldn't be too startled when the research team entered the park with a bag holding a 3-D printed model kidney. The team then rode Big Thunder Mountain 20 times, each time switching seats. The results showed that Wartinger's patients were right: Something about the force of the coaster helped dislodge stones both small and large.

So what does this all mean for you? This new research probably won't result in a facility-wide field trip to the closest theme park since roller coasters can pose a risk for people with heart, neck and back conditions. At best, it might be an idea to try for staff who don't drink enough water throughout the day, since the roller coaster therapy can help clear small deposits for people at high risk for kidney stones.

But look at the study from a different point of view. Not from the patients themselves who have tried or may benefit from giving the roller coaster a try; instead, view the research and its inspiration from Wartinger's side. Patients all reported similar (if not crazy-sounding) experiences, which the research team then decided was worth a closer look.

This study falls into a similar vein of research as Elizabeth Newman's recent blog on bagpipe lung: The condition itself may seem far-fetched, but the implications can spur providers to put on their thinking caps and look deeper into what may be causing (or in this case, curing) illnesses or complaints among residents. If getting similar feedback from residents, look into it carefully. Perhaps it's something with as simple a solution as adjusting a room's temperature, or tweaking the dining menu.

Good listening skills and an inquisitive mind just like the research team in the roller coaster study could make the difference between happy, healthy residents, or a problem that ends up worsening and throwing you for a loop.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.


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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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