What do astronauts and 80% of the world’s population have in common? A galactic back pain …!

We are talking about that pain that affects, especially between 40 and 50 years, the column between the costal margin and the lower gluteal line. Back pain is, in fact, a pathology that continues to be among the most widespread according to data from the Global Burden Disease Study (2017): the study compared both the major causes of global disabilities over time and the data from 1990 and 2017.

The result? Low back pain maintains the podium in the causes of disability, with particular reference to countries with a high socio-demographic index (since it identifies where the country is located in terms of development by schooling, income and birth rate).

Consequently, there has been no improvement over time in the management capacity of this problem. Most cases still pose a challenge in terms of therapeutic management as their specific cause is unknown (George E. Ehrlich, Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003; 81: 671-676).

Let’s go back to our spacemen. Because floating in space can be incredible, but unfortunately, half of the astronauts complain of back pain when they return, just like a good part of the rest of the population who pass their time on Earth.
Prolonged exposure to microgravity causes the muscles around the spine to relax and are less “trained” because they are not used. To put it like Luca Parmitano, one of the most famous Italian astronauts, “the spinal column in orbit seems to lengthen”.

In a recent study (Jeannie F. Bailey et al. 2018), the researchers evaluated some anatomical and functional parameters of the spine of some NASA astronauts before and after six months spent in orbit aboard the International Space Station and found that the prolonged exposure to the lack of gravity weakens the muscles that support the astronauts’ back.
“It has been seen that the atrophy of the muscles of the column rather than the protrusion of the intervertebral disc – explains Dr Francesca Di Felice, physician of Isico – is strongly associated with the reduction of lordosis (anterior curve of the column that allows a better distribution of the load to the lower limbs) and with the increase of the stiffness of the column and its weakening. This reduction in muscle strength increases back pain in astronauts once they return to Earth. It is easy to deduce the implications that these results also have for the deconditioned backs of sedentary subjects who live on Earth in gravity: what would happen to the laziest and most sluggish to physical activity would be superimposable to the anatomical and functional alterations recorded for experienced astronauts in a microgravity environment “.

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