Space Age Treatment for Back Pain

It has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of adult humans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. This global affliction, which costs the American economy billions every year in lost productivity, is about to get space age attention. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) has funded ZetrOZ to conduct a clinical study to test the sustained acoustic medicine (sam) device in patients suffering from lower back pain.

ZetrOZ will receive a Space Medical and Related Technologies Commercialization Program (SMARTCAP) grant, which is designed to speed the development of commercially promising products that both meet a medical need in space as well as on Earth.

Astronaut floating in space

Back Pain in Space

A little-publicized consequence of space travel is the toll it takes on the skeletal system. Astronauts regularly report back pain after returning to Earth. During spaceflight, microgravity changes can cause the discs between the vertebrae to swell. As the discs enlarge, they put pressure on the surrounding nerves, leading to pain. The pain isn’t limited to their time in space, as astronauts suffer from a high incidence of herniated discs back on Earth.

To address the issue, NASA has instituted a series of studies to examine disc injury and back pain in astronauts. The analysis will assess the spine prior to going into space and after the astronaut returns. The goal is to use the knowledge gained to prevent spinal degeneration in astronauts. That, in turn, will ultimately help all patients at risk or experiencing the condition, which is seen in older adults, athletes, and soldiers. It is already known that chiropractic treatments can reduce the pain as well as slow the progression of spinal degeneration.

Living in the microgravity environment of space, such as those inhabiting the Space Station, can elongate an astronaut’s spine by as much as two inches. The sam technology was developed for daily use and is prescribed to treat tendonitis and muscle injury recovery. The wearable system delivers up to four hours of therapeutic ultrasound treatment and is portable enough to be used by astronauts in space.

Promising Results

Dorit Donoviel, NSBRI’s deputy chief scientist, explains, “Ultrasound is a great platform for spaceflight, delivering both diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities. Ultrasound is portable, wearable, and does not deliver harmful radiation. NSBRI has supported the development of diagnostic and therapeutic approaches involving ultrasound for kidney stones, bone, and brain health. Sustained acoustic medicine holds great promise to accelerate the healing of muscles and tendons as well as possibly bone and cartilage. ZetrOZ has developed a disruptive technology, and we are excited to fund this important clinical study.”

ZetrOZ Co-Founder and Chief Scientific and Technology Officer George Lewis adds: “Chronic and recurring pain affects more than 150 million United States citizens and costs the health care system more than $650 billion dollars for pain management and lost work productivity every year. Our 30-patient pilot study on upper back pain demonstrated significant clinical improvement and also suggested that increasing the length of treatment would provide additional pain relief that we will clinically confirm thanks to NSBRI’s support.”

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