Maybe all that space travel was what made Darth Vader so grumpy. It turns out that a lot of astronauts come back down to earth with an aching back. So much so that NASA decided to find out why.
At Total Chiropractic Care and Wellness, we don’t expect any of our patients to be traveling to outer space in the near future, (Although, astronauts are always welcome). But as a practice that’s dedicated to helping people manage back and neck pain and is always interested in cutting-edge science, we wanted to share what we’ve learned about astronauts and back pain and some real life applications from the study that we can apply here on earth.
How NASA Studied Back Pain
According to NASA, back pain in space has been a big problem. They say it’s 68 percent more likely to occur in space than on earth. NASA crew members are also at a 4.3 times higher risk of suffering from herniated intervertebral discs than their terrestrial counterparts. So the space agency commissioned a study to measure changes that develop during a 6-month mission on the International Space Station and to find ways to prevent spinal injuries and promote better spinal health among astronauts.
The study, which was published in the December 2016 issue of the journal Spine, looked at six crew members who received three MRIs. The first one came before their space flight, the second MRI was conducted immediately following their return with the third one conducted between 33 to 67 days after the landing. The searchers also measured the astronauts to monitor for any changes in height.
Going into the study, it was thought that, the back pain, which first started appearing in the late 1980s as space missions became longer, was caused by fluids swelling up in the spinal discs, according to The Verge. But the results showed another cause. While the discs, which are cartilage joints that cushion the bones of the spine, really didn’t change their shape, the paraspinal muscles which connect the bones of the spine together did. They shrunk by about 19 percent.
According to CNN there was a tremendous degeneration and atrophying of the muscles. Because the astronauts are working in minimum gravity, the torso lengthens since they’re not bending over and using their lower backs to move, like they would on Earth. Astronauts gained up to two inches in height during long-term missions.
Total Chiropractic Care and Wellness Understands the Importance of Exercise
Even after six months of reconditioning only about 68 percent of muscle losses returned, one of the researchers told CNN. So NASA is looking at adding new exercises to the astronaut training program with yoga being a possibility. They’re also considering the possibility that astronauts may be lifting too many weights during the workouts they do in space. Given the amount of time required in space if America wants to successfully complete a mission to Mars, finding a way to keep the lower back healthy is a critical component.
At Total Chiropractic Care and Wellness we’re also in the business of treating lower back pain and we understand how much exercise is a part of the pain relief and pain prevention program. If you’re looking for help with your back pain, contact us or give us a call at (631) 447-2299 today.