Loss of bone mass is a well-known medical complication of long-duration spaceflight. However, we do not know how changes in bone density and geometry ultimately combine to affect the strength of the proximal femur as a whole. The goal of this study was to quantify the changes in proximal femoral strength that result from long-duration spaceflight. Pre- and post-flight CT scan-based patient-specific finite element models of the left proximal femur of 13 astronauts who spent 4.3 to 6.5 months on the International Space Station were generated. Loading conditions representing single-limb stance and a fall onto the posterolateral aspect of the greater trochanter were modeled, and proximal femoral strength (FFE) was computed. Mean FFE decreased from 18.2 times body weight (BW) pre-flight to 15.6 BW post-flight for stance loading and from 3.5 BW pre-flight to 3.1 BW post-flight for fall loading. When normalized for flight duration, FFE under stance and fall loading decreased at mean rates of 2.6% (0.6% to 5.0%) per month and 2.0% (0.6% to 3.9%) per month, respectively. These values are notably greater than previously reported reductions in DXA total femoral bone mineral density (0.4 to 1.8% per month). In some subjects, the magnitudes of the reductions in proximal femoral strength were comparable to estimated lifetime losses associated with aging. Although average post-flight proximal femoral strength is greater than forces expected to occur due to falls or normal activities, some subjects have small margins of safety. If proximal femoral strength is not recovered, some crew members may be at increased risk for age-related hip fractures decades after their missions.
- finite element
- quantitative computed tomography