Nephrolithiasis (Kidney Stones)


Kidney stone s1 crystal.jpg
Nephrolithiasis also known as kidney stones "are hard masses developed from crystals that separate from the urine within the urinary tract. Normally, urine contains chemical that prevent or inhibit the crystals from forming. These inhibitors do not seem to work for everyone, and stone can start to form. If crystals remain tiny enough, they will travel through the urinary tract and pass out of the body in the urine without being noticed. If the stones are unable to pass with the urine, further medical attention is needed." [1]


  • 17% of all the population will have kidney stones in his or her life.[2]
  • If affects both males and females. 12% of males and 5% of females are likely to experience kidney stones within their lifetime. [2]
  • Average onset of kidney stones is over the age or 30 years old.[1]
  • People who have had kidney stones previously are at an increased risk to have a second episode of kidney stones.[1]

Characteristics/Clinical Presentation


Kidney Stones can be one of the most painful urologic disorders and kidney stone have been increasing in the population over the past 30 years. "In the 1970s, less than 4 percent of the populations had stone-forming disease. By the early 1990s, the portion of the population with this disease has increased more than 5 percent." [1] Doctors are uncertain why these stones form in particular people and not others. Kidney stones usually do not have one defined cause, some common theories are that certain foods may cause stones to form, family history of kidney stones, infection, other kidney disorders and some metabolic disorders. [1].

Common Signs and Symptoms

  • "Severe pain in the side or back that will not go away"[2]
  • Pain that spreads to the lower abdomen/groin
  • Pain with urination
  • Pink, red, brown or cloudy urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  •  Fever and chills
  • Urine that smells bad

Stones usually will begin causing these common signs and symptoms once the stone is blocking the outflow of the urine from the kidney into the bladder.[3] 

Associated Co-morbidities

As of now, not enough research has been completed on kidney stones to link any co-morbidity to this disorder. Research is currently being analysis to see if there is a connection between a history of kidney stones and Chronic Kidney Disease. 

Risk Factors for Kidney Stones[2]

  • Family History/personal history
  • Being over the age of 30 years old
  • Male
  • Dehydration
  • Diet
  • Obesity 
  • Digestive disease
  • History of digestive surgeries
  • Rental Tubular Acidosis
  • Cystinuria
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Urinary Tract Infections

Diagnostic Tests/Lab Tests/Lab Values

Blood Tests

Blood tests are one of the first lab tests that will be performed if kidney stones are thought to be present. Blood tests can help the doctor to check the function of the kidneys, check for infection, calcium or uric acid levels and can also check for other medical conditions. [3][2]

Urine Tests

Urine can be sent for a urinalysis and culture to check for infection within the urinary tract.[3]

Imaging Tests

X-rays are often performed of the abdomen to see if a calcification in the area of the kidneys or ureters can be seen to be as an obstructing stone. This is very simple, painless, cost effective way to diagnosis kidney stones. [2]

Analysis of Stone

When people are thought to have kidney stones, often they will be given a strainer to catch stones that may pass with urine. This is a good way to analysis what kind of stone was formed and maybe what caused the stone to form in the first place. Since there is an increased risk for people that have had stone before knowing what caused their formation of their first stone is the primary way of preventing future stones from forming. [2]


There are many different factors that may cause kidney stones to form. Doctors do not always know why a person may get a kidney stone until the stone is sent to the lab for further testing. Doctors believe that life-style, family history, and certain diseases play a big role in people suffering from kidney stones. Diet (life-style) is thought to have a role in the formation of kidney stones.[1] Foods and drinks containing oxalate are thought to make people more prone to forming calcium oxalate stones. Foods that are high in oxalate are spinach, beets, Swiss cheese, soybean crackers, chocolate and sweet potatoes.[1] People that are trying to prevent a second episode of kidneys stones may be asked to monitor their in-take of these foods. As stated earlier, family history/personal history of kidney stones may have an increased risk to develop this disorder. People with the past family history/personal history are thought to have a 30 percent more likely chance to develop kidney stones and are often put on a preventive program.[3] Lastly, doctors believe that certain disease put people more at risk for developing kidney stones. Urinary tract infections, cystic kidney disease, and certain metabolic disorders all make people more susceptible. "In addition, more than 70 percent of people with a rare hereditary disease called renal tubular acidosis develop kidney stones."[1] Many of these patients that do have this disease will be put on a preventive plan to help decrease the risk of development of kidney stones.

Systemic Involvement

Kidney Stones are usually not a medical emergency and will pass with normal flow of the urine, therefore does not have major systemic involvement with the rest of the body. [1] However, kidney stone have been linked to several disorders such as connective tissue disorders, gastric disorders, metabolic syndrome disorder, immunologic disorders and eating disorders.

  • Connective Tissue Disorder: Sarcoidosis
  • "Raised serum calcium level in 2-63% of sarcoidosis patients due to overproduction of vitamin D by sarcoid granulomas, which can lead to kidney stones as a result of abnormal calcium metabolism."[4]
  • Gastric Disorder: Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • "The incidence of kidney stones is increased in Crohn's disease because of malabsorption of fat and bile salts. Patients who have Crohn's disease are likely to form calcium oxalate stones due to the unabsorbed long-chain fatty acids that bind calcium in the kidney.  [5]
  • Metabolic Syndrome:
  • Patients with metabolic syndrome have a highly acidic urine, which can cause formation of uric acid kidney stones, which can be hard to detect because these kind of stones will not shoe up on a regular abdominal x-ray, often leading to increased growth of the stone.  [6]
  • Eating Disorder: Anorexia & Bulimia
  • Patients that have a eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia usually will develop kidney stones during their life. "Fasting, repeated cycle of vomiting and the use of laxative will result in a loss of fluid and crucial electrolytes from the body. Chronic dehydration and low potassium level can lead to kidney stones and even kidney failure." [7]  

Medical Management

If the stones are too large to pass naturally or is blocking the flow of urine then other methods need to be explored. The first option is usually medication but if this proves unsuccessful then surgery may be considered.


Medication is often not needed when dealing with a kidney stone. Doctors will commonly prescribe pain medication for a kidney stone because passing a small stone can be very painful. The doctor usually orders the patient to drink "2 to 3 quarts of water a day" to help pass the stone through the urinary system. [1] If the patient is unable to pass the stone surgical intervention may be needed. The most common medications for kidney stones are:

  • Citrate [8]
  • Topamax [8]
  • Topiramate Capsules [8]

Surgical Intervention

Things to consider before Surgery:

1. The stone does not pass after a considerable amount of time[1]

2. The stone is too large to pass[1]

3. Does the stone block urine flow?[1]

4. Is the stone causing an ongoing infection in the urinary tract?[1]

5. Is the stone causing damage to the tissue or constant bleeding[1]

6. Has the stone grown larger?[1]

Surgical options include:

  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy
  • Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy
  • Ureteroscopic Stone Removal
  • Open Surgery

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotrispy

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotrispy (ESWL) is a sugerical medical management of kidney stones that is most commonly used and the best current evidence for the removal kidney stones. "In ESWL, shock waves that are created outside the body travel through the skin and body tissues until they hit the denser stones. The stones break down into small particles and are easily passed through the urinary tract in the urine. Several types of ESWL devices exist. Most devices use either x rays or ultrasound to help the surgeon pinpoint the stone during treatment. For most types of ESWL procedures, anesthesia is needed."[1]                                            

Physical Therapy Management

Kidney Stones are managed medically but physical therapist can play an important role in screening patients for kidney stones and helping these patient seek proper medically attention. However, kidney stones can present as a musculoskeletal problem therefore therapist should be aware of some of the key questions and evaluation techniques to screen for kidney stones.

Key Questions

1. Was the onset of pain immediate or gradual? [9]

2.What activities increase or decrease your symptoms? [9]

  • Eating.drinking
  • Bowl/bladder function
  • Exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Position 

3.Do your symptoms vary or remain constant? [9]

4. How long have you been experiencing fever, sweats, fatigue and nausea/vomiting? [9]

5. Can you describe your pain? [9]

6. Do you have pain with urination or noticed a change in the color of your urine? [9]

Key Evaluation Techniques

1. Kidney Percussion 

Differential Diagnosis [9]

  • Cholecystitis
  • Appendicitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
  • Urinary Tract Infection 
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Overactive bladder/Urinary incontinence
  • Peptic Ulcer
  • Ectopic Pregnancy 



  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 National Kidney and Urologic Disease Information Clearinghouse. Adult Kidney Stones. Available at Accessed on February 17, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 MayoClinic Website. Kidney Stones. Available at Accesses on February 17, 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 American Urological Association Foundation. Adult Conditions: Kidney Stones. Available at Accessed on February 17, 2010,
  4. DermNet NZ: Sarcoidosis. Available at Accessed March 27, 2010
  5. Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Sarvotham Kini, MD; Medical University of South Carolina, Updated November 20, 2009. Available at Accessed on March 27, 2010
  6. Nutrition Health Review: The Consumer's Medical Journal 2007; Metabolic Syndrome Link to An increase Risk of Kidney Stones. Available at Accessed on March 27, 2010
  7. Anorexia and Bulimia; Serious Consequences. Available at Accessed on March 27, 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Drug Information Online. Kidney Stones. Accessed April 8, 2010.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Goodman CC, Snyder TK. Differential Diagnosis for Physical Therapists: Screening for Referral. 4th ed. St.Louis, Missouri: Saunders Elsevier; 2007