Astronauts have been reporting back pain since the late 1980s, when space missions grew longer. Their flight medical data show that will more than half of US astronauts have reported back pain, especially in their lower backs. Up to 28% indicated that will This specific was moderate to severe pain, sometimes lasting the duration of their mission.
Things don’t improve when they return to Earth’s gravity. from the first year after their mission, astronauts have a 4.3 times higher risk of a herniated disc.
“This specific’s sort of an ongoing problem that will has been a significant one with cause for concern,” said Dr. Douglas Chang, first author of the completely new study along with also associate professor of orthopedic surgery along with also chief of physical medicine along with also rehabilitation service at University of California San Diego Health. “So This specific study can be the first to take This specific coming from just an epidemiological description along with also look at the possible mechanisms for what can be going on with the astronauts’ backs.”
Much attention has been focused on intervertebral discs, the spongy shock absorbers that will sit between our vertebrae, as the culprit for the back issues that will astronauts face. yet the completely new study runs counter to that will thinking. In This specific research, funded by NASA, Chang’s team observed little to no improvements from the discs, their height or swelling.
What they did observe in six astronauts who spent four to seven months on the ISS was a tremendous degeneration along with also atrophying of the supporting musculature from the lumbar (lower) spine, Chang said. These muscles are the ones that will help us stay upright, walk along with also move our upper extremities in an environment like Earth, while protecting discs along with also ligaments coming from strain or injury.
In microgravity, the torso lengthens, most likely due to spinal unloading, in which the spinal curvature flattens. Astronauts also aren’t using the muscle tone in their lower backs because they aren’t bending over or using their lower backs to move, like on Earth, Chang said. This specific can be where the pain along with also stiffening occurs, much like if the astronauts were in a body cast for six months.
MRI scans before along with also after the missions revealed that will the astronauts experienced a 19% decrease in these muscles during their flight. “Even after six weeks of training along with also reconditioning here one Earth, they are only getting about 68% of their losses restored,” Chang explained.
Chang along with also his team consider This specific a serious issue for long-term manned missions, especially when considering a trip to Mars that will could take eight or nine months just to reach the Red Planet. that will trip, along with also the astronauts’ potential time spent in Martian gravity — 38% of the surface gravity on Earth — creates the potential for muscle atrophy along with also deconditioning.
The team’s future research will also look at reported neck issues, where there can be even more occurrences of muscle atrophy along with also a slower recovery period. They are also hoping to partner with another university on inflight ultrasounds of the spine, to look at what happens to astronauts while they are on the space station.
Yoga in space?
Because nobody likes back pain along with also muscle loss, Chang suggested countermeasures that will should be added to the already two- to three-hour workout astronauts have on the space station each day. Though their exercise machines focus on a range of issues including cardiovascular along with also skeletal health, the team believes that will space travelers also need to include a core-strenghtening program focused on the spine.
In addition to the “fetal tuck” position astronauts use in microgravity to stretch their lower back or alleviate back pain, Chang suggested yoga. yet he knows that will can be easier said than done.
“A lot of yoga depends on the effects of gravity, like downward dog, where a stretch through the hamstring, calf muscles, back of the neck along with also shoulders are possible because of gravity. When you remove that will, you may not contain the same benefit.”
Any machines on the space station also have to be designed with regards to weight, size along with also even the reverberations they could produce on the station.
Chang along with also the some other researchers brainstormed that has a virtual reality team about different exercise programs that will might enable astronauts to invite friends, family or even Twitter followers to join them in a virtual workout, creating the daily repetition of their workouts more fun along with also competitive.
Keeping the astronauts healthy along with also fit can be the least they can do, Chang said.
“When a crew comes back, they say on one side of the space station, they see This specific beautiful blue planet,” he said. “Everything they hold dear to them can be on This specific fragile little planet. along with also they look out the some other window along with also just see infinity stretching off into the blackness, along with also they come back that has a different sense of themselves along with also their place from the universe.
“All of them are committed to furthering space knowledge along with also creating incremental steps forward in any way they can for the next crew.”