BACKGROUND: Astronauts have a higher risk of cervical intervertebral disc herniation. Several mechanisms have been attributed as causative factors for this increased risk. However, most of the previous studies have examined potential causal factors for lumbar intervertebral disc herniation only. Hence, we aim to conduct a study to identify the various changes in the cervical spine that lead to an increased risk of cervical disc herniation after spaceflight.
METHODS: A cohort study with astronauts will be conducted. The data collection will involve four main components: a) Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); b) cervical 3D kinematics; c) an Integrated Protocol consisting of maximal and submaximal voluntary contractions of the neck muscles, endurance testing of the neck muscles, neck muscle fatigue testing and questionnaires; and d) dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) examination. Measurements will be conducted at several time points before and after astronauts visit the International Space Station. The main outcomes of interest are adaptations in the cervical discs, muscles and bones.
DISCUSSION: Astronauts are at higher risk of cervical disc herniation, but contributing factors remain unclear. The results of this study will inform future preventive measures for astronauts and will also contribute to the understanding of intervertebral disc herniation risk in the cervical spine for people on Earth. In addition, we anticipate deeper insight into the aetiology of neck pain with this research project.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: German Clinical Trials Register, DRKS00026777. Registered on 08 October 2021.