Various Types of Kidney Stone Surgery Illustration
Kidney Stones

What are the Different Types of Kidney Stone Surgery?

Kidney stones can be an excruciatingly painful condition, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. When conservative treatments fail to provide relief or when complications arise, kidney stone surgery becomes a necessary intervention. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the different types of kidney stone surgery, their procedures, benefits, and risks.

Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL)

Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL) stands as one of the most common procedures for treating kidney stones. This non-invasive technique employs shock waves directed at the stones, breaking them into smaller fragments, which can then be passed naturally through urine. SWL is typically recommended for smaller stones located in the kidney or ureter.


During Shock Wave Lithotripsy, the patient lies on a cushioned table, and an X-ray or ultrasound is used to precisely locate the stone. Subsequently, shock waves are delivered through the skin to the targeted stone, with the aid of a machine called a lithotripter. The procedure typically lasts around 45 to 60 minutes.


  • Non-invasive: No surgical incisions are made, reducing the risk of complications and promoting quicker recovery.
  • Outpatient procedure: Most of the time, patients may go home that same day.
  • High success rate for small stones.


  • Bruising or minor discomfort around the treatment area.
  • Fragmented stones may cause temporary blockages or discomfort during passage.

Ureteroscopy (URS)

Ureteroscopy (URS) involves the use of a thin, flexible scope called a ureteroscopy to visualize and remove stones located in the ureter or kidney. This procedure is particularly effective for stones that are not amenable to shock wave lithotripsy or for those lodged in difficult-to-reach areas.


During Ureteroscopy, the ureteroscopy is inserted into the urethra, passed through the bladder, and then advanced up the ureter to reach the stone. Once the stone is visualized, it can be broken into smaller pieces using lasers or removed intact with tiny instruments.


  • Direct visualization allows for precise targeting of stones.
  • Suitable for larger stones or those resistant to shock wave lithotripsy.
  • Majority of the time be completed as an outpatient procedure.


  • Risk of ureteral injury or perforation, although rare.
  • Temporary urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequency post-procedure.

Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL)

A minimally invasive surgical technique called percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL) is used to remove big or complicated kidney stones. To remove stones with a nephoscopy, a tiny incision must be made in the back to have direct access to the kidney.


During Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy, the surgeon creates a small tract through the skin and into the kidney using imaging guidance. A nephroscope is then inserted through this tract to locate and remove the stones. Larger stones may need to be broken into smaller pieces before extraction.


  • Highly effective for large or complex stones.
  • Allows for direct visualization and precise stone removal.
  • Shorter recovery time compared to traditional open surgery.


  • Bleeding, infection, or injury to surrounding structures.
  • Potential for residual fragments requiring additional procedures.


Kidney stone surgery encompasses various techniques tailored to the size, location, and composition of the stones. While shock wave lithotripsy offers a non-invasive option for smaller stones, ureteroscopy and percutaneous nephrolithotomy provide effective solutions for larger or more stubborn stones. As with any surgical procedure, it’s essential to weigh the benefits against the risks and consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

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