Muscle tensions in space?
March 23, 2009 12:09 PM   Subscribe

If my working desk were in space, would I still experience tensions in my back?

This might be a very stupid question but I had a discussion with my girlfriend today about whether I would still experience tensions in my back after working for long periods on my desk, if my desk were in space or in a room with no gravity.

I believe that without gravity there are no muscle tensions or at least it is less likely to have them. Am I wrong? And if so, why?
posted by jfricke to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think some of the tension related to the effects of gravity would be reduced but IIRC a significant percentage of the problems we get while doing deskwork are related to the being in a specific position for an extended period of time. Typically this is tension in the neck and shoulders related to being hunched over a keyboard for 8+ hours in a given day. I also suspect that weightlessness would cause the the muscles and skeletal system to atrophy enough that you might end up with even more problems.
posted by vuron at 12:35 PM on March 23, 2009

There can definitely exist muscle tensions in zero or micro gravity. You think you can't make a fist in space? You think you can't hold that fist for long enough to hurt? Certainly all of that stress-related tension is going to still manifest itself without gravity.

However, without gravity, I don't think that sitting at a desk would result in nearly so much pain. You could float yourself into whatever position you found comfortable, without regard for having to sit stably and keep sensitive bits uncrushed. Likewise, your poor posture would be irrelevant in space since gravity wouldn't be pulling at your spine.

I think zero g would be mad comfortable. But, you might still need a massage once and again.
posted by Netzapper at 12:43 PM on March 23, 2009

I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders, which has nothing to do with whether I'm sitting or standing or in outer space; it's just an unconscious habit of tensing my shoulders when I'm thinking or under stress. That sort of thing would still happen in a zero-gravity environment.

Also, I'm pretty sure the fact that I'm in outer space would be kind of stressful in itself, so I'd probably have even worse muscle tension than I do now.
posted by ook at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2009

If the tension in your back is caused simply from the act of sitting, you would not experience that tension in zero gravity because it's not possible to sit in zero gravity. Even when you're lying motionless in a chair in zero gravity, you're not actually sitting in the chair like you would be on earth. Sitting requires gravity.

But it is possible that your tension is being caused by something other than simply sitting at your desk. As everyone else has pointed out, it's possible (and quite common) to induce unwanted tension on your own muscles unconciously.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 1:49 PM on March 23, 2009

An Astronaut can be up to 2 inches taller returning from space. The cartilage disks in the spine expand in the absence of gravity.

Less tension arguably, less pressure certainly.
posted by jamjam at 3:01 PM on March 23, 2009

I would argue it depends on two factors, your desk setup in space and how you sit at it, and how much scar tissue (adhesions, chronically tense and/or tightened muscles) you have when you start working in space.

If you have say, classic "foward hunching" posture (kyphosis of the thoratic spine, protracted scapula and internal rotation of the shoulders), and you continue to sit that way in space, the absence of gravity is not going to solve your problems as it is not the cause.

The other significant factor is the trauma you have already sustained. If the magnitude is large enough it may prevent you from assuming proper thoratic/cervical spine and glenohumeral position, and possibly scapular function.
posted by zentrification at 4:18 PM on March 23, 2009

Keep in mind that in order to sit at a desk in space, you would have to strap yourself to the chair. Or else the tiniest movement (breathing?) would work to propel you, if not out of the chair, then certainly out of position, requiring you to re-position yourself in zero gravity, which is anything but graceful.

I imagine sitting strapped in like that would cause all sorts of pain you are not thinking of.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:37 PM on March 23, 2009

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