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A study into bone loss in astronauts returning from long spaceflights has shown that some may have incomplete bone recovery even after one year back on Earth, with sustained losses equivalent to 10 years of normal age-related bone loss on Earth.

The multi-year TBone study began in 2015 and followed 17 astronauts before and after spaceflight to understand whether bone recovers after long periods in space. The research team used high-resolution (61 μm) peripheral quantitative CT to scan the tibia (shinbone) and radius (forearm) to assess bone strength, density and microarchitecture.

The results, published in Scientific Reports, show that weight-bearing distal tibia bones only partially recovered in most astronauts one year after spaceflight – suggesting permanent bone loss similar to about a decade’s worth of age-related bone loss on Earth. The research also found that some astronauts who flew on shorter missions, under six months in duration, recovered more bone strength and density in the lower body compared with those who flew for longer durations.

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