Our kidneys monitor the levels of chemicals and toxins in our body by filtering fluids, salts, and waste products from our blood through urination. These waste materials flow through narrow tubes called ureters, which can occasionally be blocked by kidney stones.

How Kidney Stones are Formed

While it can be difficult to determine the cause of a kidney stone, they usually occur when certain substances build up and crystallize in your kidneys, most frequently calcium and oxalate. They grow in the kidney until they enter the ureter.

In most cases you won’t know you have a stone until it leaves your kidney. However, as it passes it can be extremely painful depending on the size. This pain can often manifest like a particularly bad backache, usually focused on one side. And because the ureter is such a small tube (about ⅛ of an inch wide), a kidney stone can get stuck and block the ureter, causing urine to flow back into the kidneys causing additional discomfort and complications.


If you suddenly experience back pain and think that you could be suffering from a kidney stone, talk to your Intermountain provider or visit an Instacare. Your doctor or urologist may prescribe a variety of treatments to rid your body of kidney stones or to ease the pain.

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)

The first solution is to break up your stone into smaller pieces that can more easily pass through the ureter through Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy. More commonly called ESWL, or simply lithotripsy, this practice uses shock waves to break up the kidney stones.

Other treatments

Your provider may also remove the stone through a ureteroscopy or a procedure called PCNL, which retrieves the stone from the kidney rather than the ureter. A stent may also be used, which is a small tube that holds the ureter open so that the stone or its fragments can more easily flow through it.

Pain management

Waiting for a stone to pass can be painful, with the pain sometimes coming in waves. Your doctor may advise taking over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or he or she may prescribe a more powerful medication.

You can also manage the pain through meditation and distraction techniques, focusing on something else until the pain desists. Some people also apply heating pads or hot water bottles to the kidney area to ease the pain. If the pain becomes unbearable, your doctor may might admit you to the hospital for medication administered through an IV, such as morphine.


Once you get a kidney stone, it is likely you will get other kidney stones within a few years. To help prevent kidney stones from forming, you can try making a few changes to your diet.

  • Drink more fluids. Your kidneys need water and other fluids to help flush toxins and waste out of your body. You should be drinking enough water to warrant going to the bathroom about six times a day. You can tell if you aren’t drinking enough if your urine is dark yellow in color.

  • Incorporate citrus juices when possible. Citric acids break down the calcium and oxalate that form kidney stones. The more citric acid you consume, the less likely you are to develop kidney stones. Drink orange juice or add lemon to your water to increase your citric acid intake.

  • Limit your sodium, salt, and animal protein.Your body eliminates salt by pushing calcium into the urine, thus the more salt you consume the more calcium your body will need, increasing your risk of forming a kidney stone. Animal protein can also increase kidney stone risks, so your doctor may recommend limiting your meat to two servings a day.

  • Keep an eye on your calcium and oxalate. If you are at risk of kidney stones, don’t immediately cut back on your calcium. Talk to your doctor about calcium supplements and other solutions to reduce risk. You also may want to start avoiding foods that are high in oxalate; calcium binds to oxalate in our intestines, keeping it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

    Foods high in oxalate include spinach, beets, nuts, chocolate, wheat, bran, and strawberries. It is best to avoid foods that have more than 150 mg of oxalate per serving, if you eat a food that has high oxalate content, match it with a food high in calcium.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.