Pushing spinal health into the stratosphere

Hot on the heels of Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station a Dorset healthcare institution now is collaborating on its own mission that could impact the future of space travel as we know it. The Anglo-European College of Chiropractic (AECC) are to collaborate in a European Space Agency project led by scientists at King’s College London in order to add their expertise in state-of- the-art spinal evaluation. The project centres around determination of the effect of a SkinSuit which aims to mitigate the spinal elongation and possibly also some of the musculoskeletal deconditioning that occurs to astronaut during space flight.

Astronauts returning from space suffer from spinal elongation and deterioration in the spine’s extensor muscles and those along their posterior chain (the muscles that allow us to stand and lift). The SkinSuit is made from a modified elastic material and loads vertically from shoulder to foot in a way that the loading increases as it goes towards the feet. This loading could help to reduce spinal elongation and increase spinal muscle activity.

We spoke to Dr David A Green from King’s College London who is leading the project: “We are here at the AECC’s High Performance Centre to test the SkinSuit using the unparalleled range of high tech functional evaluation tools. We want to assess what the effects of axial loading while wearing the suit to inform our recommendations for participants in a range of planned studies, such as further Space flight experiments (the SkinSuit was worn by Andreas Mogenson on the International Space Station in Sept 2015) and in certain populations here on Earth”

Interestingly the SkinSuit may be used by more than just astronauts. While a loss of the stabiliser muscles is a known problem for returning astronauts when they come back from space it’s also a problem for a range of individuals who are immobilised; be that athletes who have a traumatic injury or for people who have prolonged stays in hospital. A key area of interest is intensive care which is associated with a profound loss of muscle. A potential opportunity is for individuals to wear the suit when in intensive care with the aim that axial loading provided by the suit might help protect some of those core stabilizer muscles, which will then facilitate an earlier progression into more functional exercise once recovered.

Vanessa Frost, Research and Exercise Centre Manager at the AECC commented: “We are delighted that our state-of-the-art facilities can be put to use on such an important project and we look forward to continuing to collaborate on aspects of the project going forward.”

David and the team will return to the AECC in Bournemouth later this year to continue tests on the suit using the college’s Open Upright MRI scanner with the hope that evidence can be gained to support a SkinSuit being provided to Astronaut Thomas Pesquet who will fly out to the international space station next year.