Space travel: going to space is a real back pain

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Astronauts can temporarily increase their height by 2 inches, but suffer muscle loss and back pain

More strategies involving exercise may help reduce pain and muscle loss



CNN

Staying on the International Space Station for six months can be a pain for astronauts. According to a new study, although their height may temporarily increase by 2 inches, this effect is accompanied by weakening of the muscles that support the spine.

In 1994, as part of a study on back pain, astronaut Mark Lee asked astronaut Jerry Lane to measure his height.
NASA

In 1994, as part of a study on back pain, astronaut Mark Lee asked astronaut Jerry Lane to measure his height.

Since space missions became longer and longer in the late 1980s, astronauts have been reporting back pain. Their flight medical data showed that more than half of American astronauts reported back pain, especially the lower back. As many as 28% said it was moderate to severe pain, sometimes lasting until their task.

When they returned to Earth’s gravity, the situation did not improve. In the first year after the mission, the risk of astronauts suffering from intervertebral disc herniation is 4.3 times higher.

“This is an ongoing problem and has always been an important issue worthy of attention,” said Douglas Chang, Ph.D., the first author of the new study, associate professor of orthopedics at the University of California, Sao Paulo and director of physical medicine and rehabilitation services. Diego is healthy. “So this study is the first to take it from an epidemiological description and study the possible mechanism of what happens on the back of an astronaut.”

A lot of attention is focused on the intervertebral discs, which are the spongy shock absorbers located between our vertebrae and are the main culprit for the back problems faced by astronauts. But this new research runs counter to this idea. In this NASA-funded study, Chang’s team observed little change in disc, height, or swelling.

Chang said that the six astronauts they spent four to seven months on the International Space Station did observe severe degradation and atrophy of the lumbar (lower) spine supporting muscle tissue. These muscles help us keep upright, walk and move our upper limbs in environments such as the earth, while protecting intervertebral discs and ligaments from strains or injuries.

Under microgravity, the trunk becomes longer, most likely due to the unloading of the spine and the curvature of the spine becomes flat. Chang said that the astronauts did not use the muscle tension of the lower back because they did not bend over or use the lower back to move, as they would on Earth. This is where the pain and stiffness occur, just like an astronaut stayed in the body for six months.

MRI scans before and after the mission showed that these muscles were reduced by 19% during the flight. “Even after six weeks of training and rectifying the planet, they can only recover about 68% of their losses,” Zhang explained.

Chang and his team believe this is a serious problem for long-term manned missions, especially considering that a trip to Mars may take eight to nine months to reach the red planet. That trip, and the potential time the astronauts spend in Martian gravity (38% of the Earth’s surface gravity), may cause muscle atrophy and dysfunction.

The team’s future research will also look at reported neck problems, where more muscle atrophy and slower recovery periods may occur. They also hope to collaborate with another university to conduct an in-flight ultrasound examination of the spine to see what happens to astronauts on the space station.

Because no one likes back pain and muscle loss, Zhang suggested that some countermeasures should be added to the two to three hours of exercise that astronauts perform on the space station every day. Although their exercise machine focuses on a range of issues, including cardiovascular and bone health, the team believes that space travelers also need to include a core strengthening program that focuses on the spine.

In addition to the “fetal fold” posture used by astronauts in microgravity to stretch the lower back or relieve back pain, Zhang also recommends yoga. But he knew it was easier said than done.

“A lot of yoga relies on the influence of gravity, such as the downward dog pose. Due to gravity, you can stretch the hamstrings, calf muscles, back of the neck and shoulders. When you remove it, you may not have the same benefits.”

Any machines on the space station must also be designed according to weight, size, and even the reverberation they produce on the space station.

Scott Parazynski, who has walked in space seven times, helped build the space station in 2007.
NASA

Scott Parazynski, who has walked in space seven times, helped build the space station in 2007.

Chang and other researchers brainstormed with a virtual reality team about different exercise plans that will enable astronauts to invite friends, family, and even Twitter fans to join their virtual exercises, making their daily repetitive exercises more interesting And competitive.

One of Chang’s teammates experienced this pain firsthand. Dr. Scott Parazynski is the only astronaut to climb Mount Everest. After returning to Earth from the International Space Station, he experienced herniated disc. Less than a year later, when he tried to climb Mount Everest for the first time, he had to be airlifted. After the rehabilitation process, he finally reached the top. Now, he tells current astronauts how they contribute to health research in microgravity.

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  • Chang said that keeping astronauts healthy is the least they can do.

    “When the crew came back, they said that on the side of the space station, they saw this beautiful blue planet,” he said. “Everything they cherish is on this fragile little planet. They looked out from another window and only saw the infinite extension into the darkness, with different feelings about themselves and their position in the universe. return.

    “All of them are committed to further improving space knowledge and moving forward in any way for the next crew member.”




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