Technology can offer a ton of benefits, such as greater access to information, and quick, easy communication. But those advances may also come at a cost. Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, say that people are developing horn-like growths at the back of their skulls as a result of phone use. These ‘horns’ — which are actually bone spurs — are a result of repeatedly tipping your head forward when you’re on a small screened device. Researchers say that the bone spurs are more prevalent in young people, and less so in older adults, according to the study.
The Hill reports that though the bone spur study was initially released in 2018, a recent BBC report about the effects of technology on the human skeleton has renewed interest in the research. In their paper, published in Nature: Scientific Reports, the study’s authors say that: “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?” For what it's worth, while some people might think these 'horns' are caused by radiation exposure from devices, the reality isn't quite so scary. Here are a few questions you might have about these phone-related bone spurs, answered.
How Does Using A Phone Cause A Bone Spur?
The bone spurs are found protruding from the base of the skull, and just above the neck, The Washington Post reports. The forward tilt of the head from frequent phone use alters the way weight is distributed on the spine. Weight shifts from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, The Washington Post says, causing unusual bone formations in the ligaments and tendons. The hook-like bone spurs are the result of this repetitive muscle stress, says The Washington Post, and develop just like a callus on your skin might.
How Can I Tell If I Have A Bone Spur?
First study author David Shahar, a chiropractor with a PhD in biomechanics from Sunshine Coast, told The Washington Post that the skull bumps look like “a bird’s beak, a horn, a hook,” and that the bone spurs signal a potentially serious spinal deformity that can lead to headaches and chronic pain. While the bone spurs aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, study co-author, Mark Sayers, an associate professor of biomechanics told The Washington Post, they are a “portent of something nasty going on elsewhere, a sign that the head and neck are not in the proper configuration.”
If you have a bone spur, you might not have obvious symptoms according to The Washington Post report. Shahar told The Post that people with the spurs at the base of the skull can often feel them with their hands. Otherwise, bone spurs are detected via X-rays or other imaging tests, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How Are Bone Spurs Treated?
If your bone spurs are causing you pain, then your doctor might suggest over-the-counter pain relievers, the Mayo Clinic says. Your primary care physician may also refer you to a rheumatologist who specializes in bone and joint disorders. Steroid injections and physical therapy might also be prescribed as treatments for bone spurs, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
How Can You Prevent Bone Spurs?
The study’s authors told The Washington Post that, while it’s not necessary to totally ditch your tech devices, staying physically active, and taking steps to improve your posture, are key to avoiding long-term damage. Exercise, yoga, taking breaks from your phone, and being mindful of your body alignment throughout the day, can help Shahar says.
The Queensland researchers analyzed a sample of 1,200 X-rays of study subjects between the ages of 18 and 86, The Hill writes. The bone spur growth was found in 33 percent of the research population, but were less prevalent in older subjects. “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 told The Washington Post.