Going to Space
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Going to Space Bad for Astronauts’ Backs

A month plus stay in space is an adventurous activity but at the same time hurts the back. A new study has found out that the astronauts gain on average 2 inches while the muscles supporting the back weaken.

Ever since the late 1980s, more and more astronauts have complained of back pain. The cases are even worse if they overstay in space. Analysis done on their space medical data reveals that most of their complaints had to do with the lower backs.

As they come back to the influence of the Earth’s gravity, things begin to worsen. Within their first year of mission, these astronauts’ risk to herniated risk is higher 4.3 times.

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How the Research was done

In order to carry out their study, the researcher identified six astronauts – one woman and five men. They took them to a faculty in Texas where they carried out MRI scans before they left Earth for space. As soon as they arrived back, they were allowed a month and half rest before the scan was done again.

The researchers said in a statement that “The MRI scans indicated significant atrophy of the paraspinal lean muscle mass —which plays a critical role in spinal support and movement—during the astronauts’ time in space.” The follow-up scans revealed that the atrophy had not been compensated by the astronauts.

Most of the attention has always been placed on intervertebral discs as the epicenter of the back pain. These are shock absorbers, spongy in nature, that found lying between our vertebrae. But the NASA-funded study seems to be suggesting a change on how we consider that. The study observed that the discs experienced little or no changes.

Their finding was rather that the supporting musculature experienced degeneration. These are the muscles that assist one to remain upright, walk and move the upper extremities. They also play a protective role of keeping the ligaments and discs safe from injury or strain.

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Decline in muscles

According to the MRI scans done before and after space missions, the muscles declined by 19 percent. The lead researcher, Chang, explained: “Even after six weeks of training and reconditioning here on Earth, they are only getting about 68% of their losses restored.”

The study team says that this is a serious problem that could cause long-term problems, more so when going to Mars. The trip to Mars sees the astronauts get exposed to Martian gravity which creates higher chances for muscle atrophy.

The team will also conduct a future study to look at neck issues and the slow recovery. They also have plans to bring on board another university to look into spine and determine what happens to the astronauts while in space.

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