Introduction: Postflight postural ataxia reflects both the control strategies adopted for movement in microgravity and the direct effects of deconditioning. Computerized dynamic posturography (CDP) has been used during the first decade of the International Space Station (ISS) expeditions to quantify the initial postflight decrements and recovery of postural stability.
Methods: The CDP data were obtained on 37 crewmembers as part of their pre- and postflight medical examinations. Sensory organization tests evaluated the ability to make effective use of (or suppress inappropriate) visual, vestibular, and somatosensory information for balance control. This report focuses on eyes closed conditions with either a fixed or sway-referenced base of support, with the head erect or during pitch-head tilts (± 20° at 0.33 Hz). Equilibrium scores were derived from peak-to-peak anterior-posterior sway. Motor-control tests were also used to evaluate a crewmember's ability to automatically recover from unexpected support-surface perturbations.
Results: The standard Romberg condition was the least sensitive. Dynamic head tilts led to increased incidence of falls and revealed significantly longer recovery than head-erect conditions. Improvements in postflight postural performance during the later expeditions may be attributable to higher preflight baselines and/or advanced exercise capabilities aboard the ISS.
Conclusions: The diagnostic assessment of postural instability is more pronounced during unstable-support conditions requiring active head movements. In addition to supporting return-to-duty decisions by flight surgeons, the CDP provides a standardized sensorimotor measure that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of countermeasures designed to either minimize deconditioning on orbit or promote reconditioning upon return to Earth.