Phone addiction has been a subject of debate for a long time now. The kids of the 21st century have often been accused of unproductively keeping their eyes glued to their phone screens for hours during the day. And honestly, why wouldn’t one be dependent on his/her mobile? After all, phones are becoming increasingly advanced, and any task that requires a computer or a laptop can now be efficiently completed using a mobile phone itself. It also allows people from around the globe to connect and communicate easily. Then where does the problem lie? We are already aware of a few drawbacks of heavy mobile usage like fatigue, headache, cancer, sleeplessness, etc. What we don’t know, however, is how these tiny machines might be reshaping our skeletons, possibly altering the bodies we inhabit along with our behavior.
A recent study in Biomechanics suggested that youngsters might be developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls due to the forward tilt of the head. The forward tilt may lead to a shift in weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, producing a hook/hornlike feature in the connecting tendons and ligaments. This bone would be jutting out from the skull, just above the neck.
Researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia, stated in their paper that the growth of the horns could be the result of the body posture that the younger adults keep while browsing through their phones to understand the content visible on the small screens.
Over the years, health experts have often warned us about “text neck” and have provided with treatments for “text thumbs,” a condition which bears a resemblance to carpal tunnel syndrome. However, the researchers said that this discovery marks the first documentation of a skeletal adaptation to an advanced technology which affects people’s everyday life.
“An important question is what the future holds for the young adult population, when the 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 study came out last year but has received fresh attention following the recent publication of a BBC story that talks about, “How modern life is transforming the human skeleton.”
Various instances of unusual formations have been noticed and dubbed in different ways like “head horns,” “phone bones,” “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, adding, “However it is designated that the formation is a sign of a serious deformity in posture that can cause chronic headaches and pain in the upper back and neck.”
“The danger is not the head horns itself,” said Mark Sayers, an associate professor of bio-mechanics at Sunshine Coast who served as Shahar’s supervisor and co-author. “Rather, the formation is a portent of something nasty going on elsewhere, a sign that the head and neck are not in the proper configuration,” he told The Washington Post.
Another paper was published in Clinical Biomechanics in 2018, which used a case study involving four teenagers. It stressed on the fact that horns were caused by mechanical load on the muscles in the skull rather than any inflammation or genetic factor. Further research only showed that the size of the bone growth actually decreased with age. This opposed all the earlier conjectures and beliefs about the growth occurring due to aging.
It was instead found that the bone spurs were more prominent in young people. And to understand the cause, the developments over the last 10-20 years were looked upon, and any changes that may have altered how people hold their bodies were examined. Shahar then noticed that the posture that people usually maintained while working on a handheld device(head forward and down) could be the cause of the strain required for the bone to infiltrate the tendon.
Since the bone growth is proved to develop over a long period of time, it is being stated that the improvement in posture can stop it and ward off its associated effects. “The answer is not necessarily swearing off technology,” Sayers said, adding, “What we need are coping mechanisms that reflect how important technology has become in our lives.”
Shahar is pressing people to become attentive and aware of their postures at all times. “Schools should teach simple posture strategies,” he said, adding, “Everyone who uses the technology during the day should get used to revitalizing their posture at night.”
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