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Background: The prevalence of low back pain (LBP) for astronauts in space (68%) is higher than the 1-mo prevalence for the general population on Earth (39%). It is unclear whether differences occur between healthy subjects and astronauts with a history of LBP. Knowledge of this issue is important to assess whether a history of LBP could have an operational impact. Methods: We evaluated LBP prospectively during short duration spaceflight (15 d; N = 20) and compared this with similar data collected during two bed rest studies (N = 40). Astronauts completed a questionnaire 5–10 d preflight, during each flight day, and 5–10 d postflight. Results: All astronauts with a history of LBP also developed LBP in flight. These astronauts reported a significantly longer duration of LBP and a different pain location. LBP was most often experienced in the central area of the lower back during spaceflight with an incidence of 70% and a mean pain level of 3 (on a scale of 0–10). Pain resolved within 10 d of flight. No neurological signs were present. The most frequently reported countermeasure was assuming a “knees to chest (fetal tuck) position” combined with stretching. Greater LBP intensity was reported in spaceflight than bed rest with a trend indicating a greater number of days of pain during spaceflight. Discussion: The current study represents a prospective study of LBP in spaceflight. The results indicate that LBP is self-limiting in spaceflight and should not pose an operational risk. Prior LBP on Earth appears to be a risk factor for LBP in spaceflight.

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Journal Article

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