The gadget looks like a precursor to the devices used by medical officers to scan patients in science fiction, and it’s not that far off. MyotonPRO tests muscle tension and stiffness.
The device is used by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station. As part of the Myotones experiment, Alexander is using a smartphone-sized device to study human resting muscle tone.
By nature, our muscles are always contracting slightly. This is how we maintain posture and respond quickly to sudden movements. Our muscles tense reflexively to maintain balance and minimize damage when pulled or stretched unexpectedly. Muscle tension and stiffness are good indicators of flexibility, strength and general health.
Of course, our muscles evolved to do this on Earth. In weightlessness, muscles lose function and mass. This phenomenon is well-studied, and astronauts exercise about two hours a day to prevent muscle wasting.
The myotones test focuses on resting muscle tone, which researchers know very little about. Funded by ESA, the German Aerospace Center DLR and the UK Space Agency, the experiment is run by the Center for Space Medicine at Charité University Medicine in Berlin.
During his work, Alexander takes readings from different muscles using the device, which emits a painless pressure pulse and records how the tissue responds. This video of a Myotones session on Alexander’s feet shows its ease of use.
As with most experiments on the space station, data recorded in space will be compared with data taken before and after flight.
The MyotonPRO device demonstrates this non-invasive technology that provides data quickly. Although not the futuristic scanner we see in science fiction, it can still be a very efficient diagnostic tool for terrestrial and extraterrestrial medical professionals.
In addition to keeping astronauts fit and healthy on long missions, the results of the myotons will help diagnose and rehabilitate the elderly, bedridden, heavy-duty workers and athletes with muscle wasting or injury.
Read more about Myotones in this blog post and follow the great science happening during the Alexander’s Horizons mission on the blog.
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