Pathophysiologic Spine Adaptations and Countermeasures for Prolonged Spaceflight

Cody D. Schlaff*, Melvin D. Helgeson, Scott C. Wagner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Low back pain due to spaceflight is a common complaint of returning astronauts. Alterations in musculoskeletal anatomy during spaceflight and the effects of microgravity (μg) have been well-studied; however, the mechanisms behind these changes remain unclear. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has released the Human Research Roadmap to guide investigators in developing effective countermeasure strategies for the Artemis Program, as well as commercial low-orbit spaceflight. Based on the Human Research Roadmap, the existing literature was examined to determine the current understanding of the effects of microgravity on the musculoskeletal components of the spinal column. In addition, countermeasure strategies will be required to mitigate these effects for long-duration spaceflight. Current pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic countermeasure strategies are suboptimal, as evidenced by continued muscle and bone loss, alterations in muscle phenotype, and bone metabolism. However, studies incorporating the use of ultrasound, beta-blockers, and other pharmacologic agents have shown some promise. Understanding these mechanisms will not only benefit space technology but likely lead to a return on investment for the management of Earth-bound diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-48
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Spine Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • deconditioning
  • disc herniation
  • microgravity
  • physiology
  • space medicine
  • spaceflight
  • spine


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