Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, have offered parents yet another reason to pay close attention to their children’s use of phones and tablets: They might grow horns at the base of their skulls.
The Washington Post reported this week that new research in biomechanics, published last year in Nature Research’s peer-reviewed, open-access Scientific Reports, “suggests that young people are developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls — bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head, which shifts weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone growth in the connecting tendons and ligaments.”
While the researchers noted in their report that such “the frequency and severity of degenerative skeletal features in humans are associated typically with aging,” the formations are showing up in young adults at a significant rate.
Co-authors David Shahar and Mark Sayers found in their first paper, published in the Journal of Anatomy in 2016, that 41 percent of x-rays of subjects aged 18 to 30 revealed the bone growth, with a higher prevalence among men than women.
The size of the horn-like structure — known formally as enlarged external occipital protuberance — was found in the second study to decrease with age.
Shahar explained to the Post: “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.”
While the bone growth itself might not present an immediate danger, “the formation is a sign of a serious deformity in posture that can cause chronic headaches and pain in the upper back and neck,” he said.
And our affinity for and dependence on technological devices is likely the culprit, according to the researchers.
“What happens with technology? People are more sedentary; they put their head forward, to look at their devices. That requires an adaptive process to spread the load.”
Still, Shahar does not advocate abandoning such devices as a remedy, instead pointing in his paper to the need for “for prevention intervention through posture improvement education.”
The researcher suggested that schools might begin teaching simple posture strategies to students, the Post noted, as well as all of us who rely on technology through the day might want to begin recalibrating our postures in the evening.
“What we need are coping mechanisms that reflect how important technology has become in our lives,” he said.