Lithotripsy or Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) is a urological outpatient procedure used to treat kidney stones. The technology is also being used to treat musculoskeletal problems and some penile disorders.

What is a kidney stone?

A kidney stone is a build-up of minerals within the kidneys that form a hard ‘stone’. These can pass out of your kidney and travel through the ureter to the bladder.  From there you can pass them out when you urinate.  However in some cases the stones can be too big to travel easily and can cause dreadful pain and can become lodged in the ureter.  Other kidney stones can sit quietly in the kidney and never move and others can grow too big to move into the ureter and can stop the kidney from draining.,

In the cases where the stone cannot be naturally passed lithotripsy or surgery may be required to remove the stone. If the stone is left untreated it can cause extreme pain, increased risk of infection and can cause blood in the urine.

A lithotripsy procedure involves the use of sound waves to break stones in the kidney or the ureter into smaller fragments that can then be passed spontaneously.  . The waves are called shock waves and they are produced outside the body and focussed on the stone within the body.  They cause no damage on their journey to the kidney as they are de-focussed and have a low energy.  However when they reach  the stone they are focussed down to a small target and thus have a high energy that shakes the stone and fragments it.


Lithotripsy is usually performed with the use of simple painkillers meaning that the patient is awake during the treatment.  It is usually a little uncomfortable but most patients tolerate the treatment very well.  Once the procedure has started it should only take around 45 mins to complete.  Often the stone may need to be treated with two or three times to clear.

The recovery time after lithotripsy is quick; you should be about to return to normal activities the following day – if you do experience any pain after the procedure use the painkiller prescribed for you , or, if severe, speak to your doctor.

Not all stones and not all patients are suitable for lithotripsy and your Urologist will be able to advise you about this.

Download BAUS leaflet about ESWL here.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.