Mobile technology has already transformed the way we live from how to read and work to communicating, shopping and even dating. But one thing we may not have noticed is the way it’s altering and remolding our skeletons. New research in biomechanics discovered that young people are beginning to develop hornlike spikes located at the back of their skulls.
These bone spurs become present due to the forward tilt of the head, which shifts weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone to form in the connecting tendons and ligaments, resulting in a hornlike bone that protrudes out of the skull.
According to a pair of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, the presence of hornlike bone growth in younger adults is due to shifting body posture thanks to the use of modern technology. Smartphones and other handheld devices are altering the human form by requiring users to bend their heads forward to see their screens. The formation is a serious sign of deformity in posture which can lead to chronic headaches and pain in the upper back and neck, says David Shahar, the paper’s first author.
“An important question is what the future holds for the young adult populations in our study, when development of a degenerative process is evident in such an early stage of their lives?” ask the authors in one paper, published in Nature Research’s peer-reviewed, open-access Scientific Reports.
The study was published last year, though it has regained attention after the publication last week of a BBC story that considers, “How modern life is transforming the human skeleton.” Since then, Australian media has been dubbing the hornlike bone as “head horns, phone bones, spikes or weird bumps.”
“That is up to anyone’s imagination,” Shahar told The Washington Post. “You may say it looks like a bird’s beak, a horn, a hook.”
One finding from the research that was a bit striking was the size of the bone spurs, he said. They are thought to be large if they measure 3 or 5 millimeters in length. An outgrowth was only factored into their research if it measured 10 millimeters.
According to Mark Sayers, an associate professor of biomechanics at Sunshine Coast who served as Shahar’s supervisor and co-author, the danger isn’t the head horn itself, but rather the formation as it is a “portent of something nasty going on elsewhere, a sign that the head and neck are not in the proper configuration.”
Research began nearly three years ago when they looked at a pile of neck X-rays taken in Queensland. The X-rays showed part of the skull, which included the area where the bony projections, called enthesophytes, form at the back of the head. Shahar noticed that these bone spurs were more prominent in X-rays of younger subjects, including those who were showing no obvious symptoms.
The pair’s first paper, published in the Journal of Anatomy in 2016, was composed of 218 X-rays, of subjects ages 18 to 30, suggesting that the hornlike bone could be observed in 41 percent of young adults, which is more than what was previously thought. In addition, bone growth was more prominent amongst men than women.
“These formations take a long time to develop, so that means that those individuals who suffer from them probably have been stressing that area since early childhood,” Shahar explained.
Shahar is urging people to become more aware of their posture, as improvement could stop it short and could even ward off its associated effects. While the answer isn’t necessarily to get rid of technology, there are less drastic interventions that could help.
“What we need are coping mechanisms that reflect how important technology has become in our lives,” he said. It could be as simple as posture strategies that can be taught in school and recalibrating their posture at night for those who use technology during the day. As motivation, Shahar suggests checking to see if you have a hornlike feature by reaching a hand around to the lower rear of the skull, just above the neck. Those who do have this hornlike bone can most likely feel it.