Purpose: Recent work showed an increased risk of cervical and lumbar intervertebral disc (IVD) herniations in astronauts. The European Space Agency asked the authors to advise on the underlying pathophysiology of this increased risk, to identify predisposing factors and possible interventions and to suggest research priorities.
Methods: The authors performed a narrative literature review of the possible mechanisms, and conducted a survey within the team to prioritize research and prevention approaches.
Results and conclusions: Based on literature review the most likely cause for lumbar IVD herniations was concluded to be swelling of the IVD in the unloaded condition during spaceflight. For the cervical IVDs, the knowledge base is too limited to postulate a likely mechanism or recommend approaches for prevention. Basic research on the impact of (un)loading on the cervical IVD and translational research is needed. The highest priority prevention approach for the lumbar spine was post-flight care avoiding activities involving spinal flexion, followed by passive spinal loading in spaceflight and exercises to reduce IVD hyper-hydration post-flight.
Keywords: Atrophy; Back pain; Bed rest; Inactivity; Muscle; Prolapse.