• Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) - is a non-invasive treatment of kidney stones[1] (urinary calculosis) using an acoustic pulse.

The lithotriptor attempts to break up the stone with minimal collateral damage by using an externally applied, focused, high-intensity acoustic pulse. The sedated or anesthetized patient lies down in the apparatus' bed, with the back supported by a water-filled coupling device placed at the level of kidneys. A fluoroscopic x-ray imaging system or an ultrasound imaging system is used to locate the stone and aim the treatment. The first generation lithotriptor known as the Dornier HM3 (Human Model 3), has a half ellipsoid-shaped piece that opens toward the patient. The acoustic pulse is generated at the ellipsoidal focal point that is furthest from the patient and the stone positioned at the opposite focal point receives the focused shock wave. The treatment usually starts at the equipment's lowest power level, with a long gap between pulses, in order to accustom the patient to the sensation. The length of gap between pulses is also controlled to allow cavitation bubbles to disperse minimizing tissue damage. Second and later generation machines use an acoustic lens to focus the shock wave. This functions much like an optical lens, focusing the shock wave at the desired loci. The frequency of pulses are currently left at a slow rate for more effective comminution of the stone and to minimize morbidity while the power levels are then gradually increased, so as to break up the stone. The final power level usually depends on the patient's pain threshold and the observed success of stone breakage. If the stone is positioned near a bone (usually a rib in the case of kidney stones), this treatment may be more uncomfortable because the shock waves can cause a mild resonance in the bone which can be felt by the patient. The sensation of the treatment is likened to an elastic band twanging off the skin. Alternatively the patient may be sedated during the procedure. This allows the power levels to be brought up more quickly and a much higher pulse frequency, often up to 120 shocks per minute.

The successive shock wave pressure pulses result in direct shearing forces, as well as cavitation bubbles surrounding the stone, which fragment the stones into smaller pieces that then can easily pass through the ureters or the cystic duct. The process takes about an hour. A ureteral stent (a kind of expandable hollow tube) may be used at the discretion of the urologist. The stent allows for easier passage of the stone by relieving obstruction and through passive dilatation of the ureter.


Extracorporeal lithotripsy works best with stones between 4 mm and 20 mm (0.4 cm and 2.0 cm) in diameter that are still located in the kidney. ESWL can be used to break up stones located in ureters as well, but with a lower rate of success.

ESWL is the least invasive of the commonplace modalities for definitive stone treatment, but provides a lower stone-free rate than other more invasive treatment methods, such as ureteroscopic manipulation with laser lithotripsy or percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL). The passage of stone fragments may take a few days or a week and may cause mild pain. Patients may be instructed to drink as much water as practical during this time. Patients are also advised to void through a stone screen in order to capture stone fragments for analysis.