Space travel: Going to space is a real pain in the back

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Astronauts have been reporting back pain since the late Eighties, when space missions grew longer. Their flight medical knowledge present that greater than half of US astronauts have reported back pain, particularly in their decrease backs. Up to 28% indicated that it was average to extreme pain, typically lasting the length of their mission.

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Things do not enhance after they return to Earth’s gravity. In the first yr after their mission, astronauts have a 4.3 occasions increased danger of a herniated disc.

“It’s sort of an ongoing problem that has been a significant one with cause for concern,” mentioned Dr. Douglas Chang, first writer of the new research and affiliate professor of orthopedic surgical procedure and chief of bodily medication and rehabilitation service at University of California San Diego Health. “So this study is the first to take it from just an epidemiological description and look at the possible mechanisms for what is going on with the astronauts’ backs.”

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Much consideration has been centered on intervertebral discs, the spongy shock absorbers that sit between our vertebrae, as the offender for the back points that astronauts face. But the new research runs counter to that considering. In this analysis, funded by NASA, Chang’s staff noticed little to no modifications in the discs, their peak or swelling.

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What they did observe in six astronauts who spent 4 to seven months on the ISS was a super degeneration and atrophying of the supporting musculature in the lumbar (decrease) backbone, Chang mentioned. These muscular tissues are the ones that assist us keep upright, stroll and transfer our higher extremities in an setting like Earth, whereas defending discs and ligaments from pressure or harm.

In microgravity, the torso lengthens, probably due to spinal unloading, in which the spinal curvature flattens. Astronauts additionally aren’t utilizing the muscle tone in their decrease backs as a result of they are not bending over or utilizing their decrease backs to transfer, like on Earth, Chang mentioned. This is the place the pain and stiffening happens, very similar to if the astronauts had been in a physique forged for six months.

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MRI scans earlier than and after the missions revealed that the astronauts skilled a 19% lower in these muscular tissues throughout their flight. “Even after six weeks of training and reconditioning here one Earth, they are only getting about 68% of their losses restored,” Chang defined.

Chang and his staff think about this a severe difficulty for long-term manned missions, particularly when contemplating a journey to Mars that might take eight or 9 months simply to attain the Red Planet. That journey, and the astronauts’ potential time spent in Martian gravity — 38% of the floor gravity on Earth — creates the potential for muscle atrophy and deconditioning.

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The staff’s future analysis can even have a look at reported neck points, the place there could be much more occurrences of muscle atrophy and a slower restoration interval. They are additionally hoping to companion with one other college on inflight ultrasounds of the backbone, to have a look at what occurs to astronauts whereas they’re on the space station.

Yoga in space?

Because no person likes back pain and muscle loss, Chang prompt countermeasures that ought to be added to the already two- to three-hour exercise astronauts have on the space station every day. Though their train machines give attention to a vary of points together with cardiovascular and skeletal well being, the staff believes that space vacationers additionally want to embrace a core-strenghtening program centered on the backbone.

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In addition to the “fetal tuck” place astronauts use in microgravity to stretch their decrease back or alleviate back pain, Chang prompt yoga. But he is aware of that is simpler mentioned than accomplished.

“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 and shoulders are possible because of gravity. When you remove that, you may not have the same benefit.”

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Any machines on the space station even have to be designed with regards to weight, dimension and even the reverberations they may produce on the station.

Scott Parazynski, who walked in space seven times, assisted with construction on the space station in 2007.

Chang and the different researchers brainstormed with a digital actuality staff about totally different train applications that will allow astronauts to invite buddies, household and even Twitter followers to be a part of them in a digital exercise, making the each day repetition of their exercises extra enjoyable and aggressive.

One of Chang’s teammates has felt this pain personally. Dr. Scott Parazynski is the solely astronaut to summit Mount Everest. He skilled a herniated disc after getting back from the ISS to Earth. Less than a yr later, when he tried to climb Everest the first time, he had to be airlifted off. After a rehabilitation course of, he ultimately made the summit. Now, he speaks to present astronauts about the methods they’ll contribute to research about their well being in microgravity.

Keeping the astronauts wholesome and match is the least they’ll do, Chang mentioned.

“When a crew comes back, they say on one side of the space station, they see this beautiful blue planet,” he mentioned. “Everything they hold dear to them is on this fragile little planet. And they look out the other window and just see infinity stretching off into the blackness, and they come back with a different sense of themselves and their place in the universe.

“All of them are dedicated to furthering space data and making incremental steps ahead in any means they’ll for the subsequent crew.”

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