Preflight, In-Flight, and Postflight Imaging of the Cervical and Lumbar Spine in Astronauts.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Aerosp Med Hum Perform


BACKGROUND: Back pain is a common complaint during spaceflight that is commonly attributed to intervertebral disc swelling in microgravity. Ultrasound (US) represents the only imaging modality on the International Space Station (ISS) to assess its etiology. The present study investigated: 1) The agreement and correlation of spinal US assessments as compared to results of pre- and postflight MRI studies; and 2) the trend in intervertebral disc characteristics over the course of spaceflight to ISS.

METHODS: Seven ISS astronauts underwent pre- and postflight US examinations that included anterior disc height and anterior intervertebral angles with comparison to pre- and postflight MRI results. In-flight US images were analyzed for changes in disc height and angle. Statistical analysis included repeated measures ANOVA with Bonferroni post hoc analysis, Bland-Altman plots, and Pearson correlation.

RESULTS: Bland-Altman plots revealed significant disagreement between disc heights and angles for MRI and US measurements while significant Pearson correlations were found in MRI and US measurements for lumbar disc height (r2 = 0.83) and angle (r2 = 0.89), but not for cervical disc height (r2 = 0.26) or angle (r2 = 0.02). Changes in anterior intervertebral disc angle-initially increases followed by decreases-were observed in the lumbar and cervical spine over the course of the long-duration mission. The cervical spine demonstrated a loss of total disc height during in-flight assessments (∼0.5 cm).

DISCUSSION: Significant disagreement but significant correlation was noted between US and MRI measurements of disc height and angle. Consistency in imaging modality is important for trending measurements and more research related to US technique is required.Harrison MF, Garcia KM, Sargsyan AE, Ebert D, Riascos-Castaneda RF, Dulchavsky SA. Preflight, in-flight, and postflight imaging of the cervical and lumbar spine in astronauts. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2018; 89(1):32-40.

Medical Subject Headings

Adult; Aerospace Medicine; Astronauts; Back Pain; Cervical Vertebrae; Female; Humans; Image Processing, Computer-Assisted; Lumbar Vertebrae; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Male; Middle Aged; Space Flight; Ultrasonography

PubMed ID






First Page


Last Page