An X-ray shows a 27.8 millimeter growth on the base of a 28-year-old man’s skull. Scientific Reports

Extensive use of smartphones and electronic devices might be changing our bone structure.

New research from the University of Queensland suggests that young people are developing a bone spur on the back of their skulls, caused by the increased prevalence of looking down.

To hold our heads up, we mainly use muscles located in the spine, but looking down causes this to shift the muscles at the back of the skull.

Prolonged periods of this posture seems to be causing a buildup in the tendons and ligaments that hold the head up – in the same way; you develop a callus on your foot or hand from repeated movements.

Like a muscle callus

This build-up is presenting itself as a hook or horn on the back of the head. In a new research paper, biomechanists suggest that the increase in instances of these bone growths is due to a change in posture, introduced by using electronic devices.

They argue that humans are spending more time in a contorted or hunched position over their device’s screens.

The paper is the first documentation of the physiological or skeletal adaptation to the everyday use of physical technology.

What does the future human skeleton look like?

“An important question is what the future holds for the young adult population in our study when the development of a degenerative process is evident in such an early stage of their lives?” ask the authors.

The research was published last year but is being brought back to the spotlight after a BBC story highlighted the story. The horn or bump, while a fascinating insight into the potential adaptive power of the human body, is also a severe problem for the patient suffering from pain. 

Chronic pain

Author of the study, David Shahar, says the growth can cause chronic headaches and pain. Sahar’s supervisor for the paper, Mark Sayers, says it’s not the growth itself that is cause for worry, but it is an indication that the body is severely out of alignment.

The research into the skull horns has been going on for some time. It began in 2016 when the researchers examined a series of neck x-rays. Contrary to belief, there was evidence of bony projections, called enthesophytes, in younger subjects rather than the older patients.

The first research paper that was published from this first study suggested that the unusual bone growth was present in 41 percent of young adults after analyzing 218 X-rays of the subjects, aged 18 to 30.

case study of four teenagers published in the spring of 2018 argued that the head horns were directly linked to the mechanical load on muscles in the skull and neck.

Another paper by the group, also published last year, analyzed a broader sample of x-rays to discover that the bone growth was present in 33 percent of the population.

One thousand two hundred x-rays of people from Queensland were examined for the most recent research. The team found that the prevalence of bone growth decreased with age.

The researchers aren’t pushing for people to abandon technology, but rather to prioritize posture. They say it’s essential that good posture is taken as seriously as good oral health.

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