Why Does the Spine Grow in Outer Space?

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

astronautDid you know that the spine can grow longer in outer space – even in fully developed adults? This was confirmed by a study conducted by NASA last year. Why does the spine grow in space? That is precisely the question we aim to answer in this article.

The NASA Study

In this particular study, NASA examined astronauts who have spent time on the International Space Station. They found that astronauts tend to get taller while in space, some gaining up to three percent of height (that’s an extra two inches for a 6-foot-tall person).

So why does this happen? Researchers believe it all boils down to gravity. On Earth our bodies are subjected to gravity on a constant basis. In the microgravity of outer space, the Earth’s gravity all but disappears, causing the vertebra in the spine to relax and expand. A few months after returning to Earth, the spine re-adjusts to the Earth’s gravity and the astronauts shrink back to their original height. This is not always a smooth transition, however.

Impact on Astronauts

As you can imagine, a growing and shrinking several inches in the span of months takes its toll on the body. Astronauts who return home often experience growing (or shrinking in this case) pains and usually have to go through rehabilitation to help their bodies adjust to the spinal shrinkage.

New technology aboard the International Space Station now allows scientists to monitor the changes in the musculoskeletal system and spine during an astronaut’s six month stay. This technology will give better insights into how exactly the spine changes when it is not exposed to constant gravity. And in turn, this will allow physical rehabilitation specialists to more effectively treat astronauts after returning home from orbit.



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