(Though expect back pains with it)

Astronauts are up to 2 inches taller while they’re in space, most of it due to how microgravity affects our bodies. However, among many space-related health changes, crewmembers frequently report back pain while in orbit and when they return to Earth, which physicians believe is related to changes in the astronauts’ intervertebral discs. The discs create a cushion between vertebrae in a person’s spine, and changes to their shape and size can affect the spinal column and back.

A recent NASA study shows that astronauts on long missions in space have atrophy of the muscles supporting the spine—which don’t return to normal even several weeks after their return to Earth. The results provide new insights into the elevated rates of back pain and spinal disc disease associated with prolonged spaceflight, report Dr. Douglas G. Chang of University of California, San Diego, and colleagues. “This could provide helpful physiological information to support a manned mission to Mars,” the researchers write. Six NASA crewmembers were studied before and after spending four to seven months in “microgravity” conditions on the International Space Station.

Previously, scientists had attributed back problems to the swelling of the spinal discs when the back was not compressed by the body’s own weight, but the MRI images showed no evidence of this.

This recent study, provides more insight into understanding how microgravity changes the structures of a person’s back and could help physicians develop exercises or therapies to prevent injury and pain on long-duration space missions, as well as after astronauts return home. Further, understanding the origin of spine degeneration in space is expected to aid physicians on Earth to diagnose and treat spine disorders related to inactivity and, conversely, overloading.

For more information see this Spine Journal article!

Photo: NASA. Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams

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