Low Back Pain in Microgravity and Bed Rest Studies

Annelies Goudzwaard, DL Belavy, JA Hides, CA Richardson, Chris Snijders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The prevalence of low back pain (LBP) for astronauts in space (68%) is higher than the 1-mo prevalence for the general population on Earth (39%). It is unclear whether differences occur between healthy subjects and astronauts with a history of LBP. Knowledge of this issue is important to assess whether a history of LBP could have an operational impact. METHODS: We evaluated LBP prospectively during short duration spaceflight (15 d; N = 20) and compared this with similar data collected during two bed rest studies (N = 40). Astronauts completed a questionnaire 5-10 d preflight, during each flight day, and 5-10 d postflight. RESULTS: All astronauts with a history of LBP also developed LBP in flight. These astronauts reported a significantly longer duration of LBP and a different pain location. LBP was most often experienced in the central area of the lower back during spaceflight with an incidence of 70% and a mean pain level of 3 (on a scale of 0-10). Pain resolved within 10 d of flight. No neurological signs were present. The most frequently reported countermeasure was assuming a "knees to chest (fetal tuck) position" combined with stretching. Greater LBP intensity was reported in spaceflight than bed rest with a trend indicating a greater number of days of pain during spaceflight. DISCUSSION: The current study represents a prospective study of LBP in spaceflight. The results indicate that LBP is self-limiting in spaceflight and should not pose an operational risk. Prior LBP on Earth appears to be a risk factor for LBP in spaceflight.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)541-547
Number of pages7
JournalAerospace medicine and human performance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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