Fitbits helping researchers track success of spinal procedure

Narrowing of the spinal canal can make standing and walking unbearable.

The chances of getting lumbar spinal stenosis increases with age. Options include pain medications, steroid injections and surgery.

Now researchers are investigating the efficacy of a new option that may help you avoid surgery. Scientists are now using Fitbits to help track success.

Just walking was extremely painful for Ronnie Turner. Narrowing of the spaces within his spine, known as lumbar spinal stenosis, restricted his usually active lifestyle.
"I wanted help, and I wanted to be where I could do things with my grandkids and my son," he said.

Instead of conventional surgery which requires a long incision along his back to remove bone, Turner underwent a minimally invasive technique called "MILD" procedure.

Through a tiny incision the size of an eraser head, doctors remove small pieces of bone and ligament. A fluoroscope showed when the canal was open.

Dr. Vance Johnson, director of spine service at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Murrieta Campus says there's no guesswork.

"We can see while we're operating actually, live while we're operating, the canal opens up and the pressure decreases," he said.

Turner says he was back on his feet the next day. Since 2012, more than 20,000 of these procedures have been done.

Vertos Medical is tracking how mobile and active patients are with a new study using Fitbits.

A previous study done by Cleveland Clinic showed that standing time increased from eight to 56 minutes and walking distance from 250 to 4,000 feet.

Eric Wichems, president and CEO of Vertos Medical, said, "What we expect to see is a true improvement in the quality of life of these patients, and that's new data."

The other data researchers will be tracking is the use of pain medications such as opioids before and after the procedure.
Ronnie feels a huge change.

"Tremendous," he said. "Tremendous difference for me. Tremendous."

While the study is ongoing, Ronnie says returning to fishing is proof enough for him.

"I don't dread the opportunity to go and do things," he said, "Those days are over. I'll try anything!"

The Motion Study Trial is taking place at 20 centers across the country. Researchers expect results in about a year and a half.

Doctors say the MILD procedure is an option patients may try prior to conventional surgery.

However, it can't be done after a patient has had back surgery so it's important to discuss all the options first with your doctor.
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