Study of Low Back Pain in Crewmembers During Space Flight (Muscle) - 09.17.14

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ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Study of Lower Back Pain in Crewmembers During Space Flight (Muscle) experiment examines the details on development of low back pain during flight in ISS crewmembers.

Science Results for Everyone

Space flight is a pain in the…back. Low back pain is 68 percent more prevalent in space than on earth, and while a number of changes are known to occur in the lumbar spine in space, data were lacking on the development and natural cause of this pain. This study sought to remedy that. Twenty astronauts filled in a questionnaire before, during, and after flight describing pain levels, location, neurological signs, provoking movements, and relieving countermeasures. Results demonstrate that pain was mostly experienced in the central lower back and occurred in 12 out of 20 astronauts. None of the astronauts reported pain during the last flight days or seven days after flight.

The following content was provided by Chris J. Snijders, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.

Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)

  • Chris J. Snijders, Ph.D., University Medical Center, Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands

  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
  • J. A. Hides, University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia
  • Annelies L. Pool-Goudzwaard, Ph.D., University Medical Center, Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • L. Danneels, University of Gent, Gent, Belgium
  • C. A. Richardson, University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia

  • Developer(s)
    University of Rotterdam, Rotterdam, , Netherlands

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    European Space Agency (ESA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Information Pending

    Research Benefits
    Information Pending

    ISS Expedition Duration
    October 2003 - October 2009

    Expeditions Assigned

    Previous ISS Missions
    Information Pending

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • Lower back pain affects some crewmembers during space flight. Currently, it is not well understood how the pain is occurring in the absence of gravity.

    • This investigation will examine the muscles of the lower back to determine if there is muscle atrophy and, if there is, how much atrophy has occurred.

    • The outcome of the Study of Lower Back Pain in Crewmembers During Space Flight (Muscle) may lead to countermeasures for lower back pain during space flight and here on Earth.

    In the weightless conditions of space, crewmembers often experience some form of lower back pain. This is extraordinary since, on Earth, back pain is associated with heavy spinal load, mainly a consequence of gravity.

    Scientists have therefore developed a hypothesis that lower back pain may develop without compression of the vertebra. The explanation of the problem comes from the fact that the lower part of the vertebrae, the sacral bone, has to be kept in position in the pelvic girdle (hip bones). And a deep "muscle corset" plays an important role in this process, with the tonic postural muscles being activated when getting up in the morning and deactivated when resting.

    It is hypothesized that this protective mechanism does not work in space. In space crewmember bones lose calcium and strength, their muscles lose mass: therefore, it is thought that the deep muscle corset atrophies during space flight, leading to strain in certain ligaments, in particular in the lower region in the back, and causing as a consequence low back pain in crewmembers.

    The Study of Lower Back Pain in Crewmembers During Space Flight (Muscle) experiment studies the development of low back pain on crews during space flight, with the objective to assess the level of atrophy in the deep muscle corset in response to exposure to microgravity.

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    Space Applications
    Information Pending

    Earth Applications
    Information Pending

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    Operational Requirements
    Crewmembers complete questionnaires daily on orbit, indicating if they are experiencing pain, what type of pain and the intensity. At L-10 +/- 5, baseline data are collected with the questionnaire. In-flight, the questionnaire is completed at the end of every flight day. Postflight, at R+10 +/- 5, data on return to gravity load are collected with the questionnaire.

    Operational Protocols
    The questionnaire starts with "Did you experience pain today in the lower back?" If the answer is "Yes", questions about type and intensity of pain are completed with the use of a visual analogue scale. Crewmembers are also asked if the back was painful almost all the time, what provoked the low back pain and if it was possible to relieve the pain.

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    Results/More Information
    Information Pending

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    Related Websites
    The information on this page is provided courtesy of the ESA Erasmus Experiment Archive.
    Columbus Mission - European Experiment Programme
    ESA experiments with spaceflight participant Ansari to ISS

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