NASA finds prolonged space travel can affect the spine

With a manned mission to Mars in the cards for NASA, the space agency is spending lots of money and time researching the effects of prolonged space travel on the human body. A new study has been published that has found that space travel will affect the spine of astronauts. Specifically the study has proven that atrophy of the muscles supporting the spine occurs after long travel in space.

The study has provided researchers insights into elevated rates of back pain and spinal disc disease that has been associated with long duration space flight. Researchers Dr. Douglas G. Chang of University of California, San Diego, and colleagues wrote, "This could provide helpful physiological information to support a manned mission to Mars."

The data that the researchers have produced was part of a NASA funded study and participants in the study were six NASa crewmembers. These crewmembers were studied before and after spending four to seven months in microgravity on the ISS. each of the study participants underwent MRI scans of the spine before and after the mission. They were scanned immediately after their return to Earth and then scanned again in one to two months.

The scientists wanted to understand what affects lumbar strength and low back pain on long duration flights. Scientists say that back pain is common on long flights and that the astronauts are at increased risk for spinal disc herniation for months after a flight. The changes to the astronaut's body also result in height increased by about two inches. This increased height is thought to be associated with spinal unloading and other changes due to the lack of gravity.

Scans showed significant muscular atrophy in paraspinal lean muscle mass during space flight. Scans found a 19% reduction in the functional cross-sectional area of the lumbar paraspinal muscles during flight. By a month to two months later only two-thirds of that reduction had recovered. The scientists say that more study is needed on this condition and related back conditions.

SOURCE: Eurekalert