Muscle tone in space

Research on board the ISS is helping to improve rehabilitation for muscular and bone atrophy

The Myotones project aims to analyse the basic biomechanical properties of the skeletal muscles in a non-invasive way, using a small, handheld device. With MyotonPRO changes in human resting muscle (tone, elasticity and rigidity) caused by lack of gravity are measured and evaluated for astronauts on board the ISS. The technology has already been successfully applied in bed rest studies, while the device for taking measurements in microgravity conditions has already been proven to be suitable for use in space during parabolic flights. MyotonPRO measures the passive characteristics of near surface skeletal muscle in the same way that a doctor would, by feeling for areas of tension and hardening in the muscles when relaxed. A short mechanical stimulus is placed on the surface of the skin for this purpose, and the vibration of the muscle beneath it is measured digitally. The data provide precise information about the elasticity, rigidity and tone of the examined muscle at rest. For the frst time, this makes it possible to determine the state of the muscle objectively, quickly and easily. In addition to monitoring the physiological parameters of astronauts on the ISS, this method also allows the success of countermeasures against muscular and bone atrophy in the form of sports programmes to be monitored and objectively evaluated to better effect before, during and after their time on the ISS.

On Earth, the fndings are used to optimise rehabilitation and training programmes, and for the objective assessment of the success of training in fitness regimes and competitive sport. According to the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA), incapacity to work was responsible for production losses of approximately 64 billion euro in Germany in 2015. Around a quarter of production losses are due to muscle, bone and connective tissue diseases. Against this backdrop, optimised treatment, training programmes and objective assessment of effectiveness are vital in hospitals and surgeries.

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Christian Rogon · E-Mail: ·