New research in biomechanics 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.
According to a report by Washington Post the weight transfer that causes the buildup can be compared to the way the skin thickens into a callus as a response to pressure or abrasion.
The result is a hook or hornlike feature jutting out from the skull, just above the neck.
In academic papers, a pair of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, argues that the prevalence of the bone growth in younger adults points to shifting body posture brought about by the use of modern technology. They say smartphones and other handheld devices are contorting the human form, requiring users to bend their heads forward to make sense of what’s happening on the miniature screens.
The researchers said their discovery marks the first documentation of a physiological or skeletal adaptation to the penetration of advanced technology into everyday life.
“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 their most recent paper, published in Nature Research’s peer-reviewed, open access Scientific Reports.
The unusual formations have captured the attention of Australian media, and have variously been dubbed “head horns” or “phone bones” or “spikes” or “weird bumps.”
Each is a fitting description, said David Shahar, the paper’s first author, a chiropractor who recently completed a PhD in biomechanics at Sunshine Coast.
“That is up to anyone’s imagination,” he told The Washington Post. “You may say it looks like a bird’s beak, a horn, a hook.”
However it is designated, said Shahar, the formation is a sign of a serious deformity in posture that can cause chronic headaches and pain in the upper back and neck.
Another paper, published in Clinical Biomechanics in the spring of 2018, used a case study involving four teenagers to argue that the head horns were not caused by genetic factors or inflammation, pointing instead to the mechanical load on muscles in the skull and neck.
And the Scientific Reports paper, published the month before, zoomed out to consider a sample of 1,200 X-rays of subjects in Queensland, ages 18 to 86. The researchers found that the size of the bone growth, present in 33 percent of the population, actually decreased with age. That discovery was in stark contrast to existing scientific understanding, which had long held that the slow, degenerative process occurred with aging.
They found instead that the bone spurs were larger and more common among young people. To understand what was driving the effect, they looked to recent developments — circumstances over the last 10 or 20 years altering how young people hold their bodies.
“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.