Mobile technology has changed our lives – how we read, work, communicate, shop and date. We already know that.
What we have not yet understood is the way the tiny machines in front of us are reshaping our skeletons and possibly changing not just the behavior we show, but also the bodies in which we live.
New research in biomechanics suggests that young people develop horn-like spines on the back of the head – bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head, shifting the weight from the spine to the back of the head muscles, and the bone growth in the back of the head causing connective tendons and ligaments , The weight transfer that causes the buildup can be compared to the way the skin is thickened into a callus in response to pressure or abrasion.
The result is a hook or horn-like feature that sticks out of the skull just above the neck.
In scientific work, two researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia, argue that the prevalence of bone growth in younger adults indicates a shift in posture caused by the use of modern technology. They say smartphones and other handheld devices distort the human form and require users to bend their heads forward to understand what's happening on the miniature screens.
The researchers said that their discovery is the first documentation of a physiological or skeletal adaptation to the penetration of advanced technologies into everyday life.
Health experts warn against the "Texthals" and doctors have begun to treat the "text thumb", which is not a well-defined condition, but resembles the carpal tunnel syndrome. However, previous research has not linked telephone use to bone-deep changes in the body.
"An important question is what the future of the young adult population will look like in our study when the development of a degenerative process is emerging at such an early stage of life." Ask the authors in their latest article, which was published in the peer-reviewed scientific reports from Nature Research on Open Access. The study came out last year, but has received new attention following the publication of a BBC story last week that focuses on how modern life is changing the human skeleton.
Since then, the unusual formations have caught the attention of the Australian media and have been variously referred to as "head horns," "phone bones," "spikes," or "weird bumps."
Each is a fitting description, said David Shahar, the newspaper's first author, a chiropractor who recently completed his doctorate on biomechanics at the Sunshine Coast.
"Anyone can imagine that," he told the Washington Post. "You could say it looks like a bird's beak, a horn, a hook."
Whatever it is, Shahar said, the formation is a sign of a serious deformity of posture that can cause chronic headaches and upper back and neck pain.
One striking feature of their results was the size of the bone spores, which would be considered large at a length of 3 to 5 millimeters. An outgrowth was only considered when it was 10 millimeters or about two fifths of an inch.
The danger is not on the horn itself, said Mark Sayers, Associate Professor of Biomechanics at the Sunshine Coast, who supported Shahar as a supervisor and co-author. Rather, the formation is a "sign that something bad is going on elsewhere, a sign that the head and neck are not in the right configuration," he told the Washington Post.
Their work began about three years ago with a stack of endoscopic X-rays in Queensland. The images captured part of the skull, including the area where the bony prominences, called enthesophytes, form at the back of the head.
In contrast to the conventional understanding of the horn-like structures, which were believed to occur only rarely and primarily in older people who suffer from prolonged stress, Shahar found that they did on X-rays of younger subjects, including those who had no obvious symptoms showed prominently.
In the couple's first publication, published in the Journal of Anatomy in 2016, a sample of 218 X-ray 18-30 year-olds was used to suggest that bone growth was observed much more frequently in 41 percent of young adults than before thought. The feature was more common in men than in women.
The effect – known as the enlarged outer rear head projection – was so unusual that one of his early observers raised objections to his title towards the end of the 19th century, arguing that there was no real lead.
That is no longer the case.
In another article published in Clinical Biomechanics in the spring of 2018, a case study with four teenagers argued that the horns were not caused by genetic factors or inflammation, but rather indicate the mechanical stress on the muscles in the skull and neck.
In the previous month, Scientific Reports, a sample of 1,200 radiographs of subjects in Queensland aged 18 to 86 years was reviewed. The researchers found that bone growth accounts for 33 percent of the population, actually decreasing with age. This discovery was in sharp contrast to the existing scientific evidence that the slow, degenerative process was associated with aging.
Instead, they found that the bone spores were larger and more common in young people. To understand what triggered the effect, they looked at recent developments – the circumstances in the last 10 or 20 years that changed the attitude of young people towards their bodies.
"It takes a long time for these formations to develop, which means that those who suffer from it probably emphasize this area since their early childhood," said Shahar.
The type of stress that is required for bones to infiltrate the tendon has led them to hand-held devices that move the head forward and down and require the use of muscles at the back of the head to prevent the head from falling to the chest. "What happens to technology?" he said. "People are more sedentary, they are looking their heads up to look at their equipment, which requires an adjustment process to distribute the burden."
The fact that bone growth develops over a long period of time suggests that prolonged posture improvement can stop bone growth and even ward off the associated effects.
The answer is not necessarily to renounce technology, Sayers said. At least there are fewer drastic interventions.
"What we need are coping mechanisms that reflect how important technology has become in our lives," he said.
Shahar urges people to feel as good as dental hygiene in the 1970s when it comes to body posture, as body care was daily accompanied by brushing and flossing. Schools should teach simple housing strategies, he said. Anyone who uses technology during the day should get used to recalibrating their posture at night.
As a motivation, he proposed to bring a hand to the lower back of the head. Those who have the horn-like trait can probably feel it.