Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast say the over-use of smartphones has led to an increase in young people developing a horn-like bone growth. This is a
Researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast say the over-use of smartphones has led to an increase in young people developing a horn-like bone growth. This is a "forward head protraction" of 42.6mm. It should be at 0 so this is an example of a person who juts their head forwards. University of the Sunshine Coast

How technology is giving young people 'horn-like' growth

HEALTH researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast say the over-use of smartphones and hand-held technologies has led to an increase in young people developing a horn-like bone growth at the back of the skull.

A study involving 218 X-rays of people aged between 18 and 30 on the Coast found that 41 per cent had developed a 10 to 30 millimetre bony lump at the back of their skull.

The research, published by Dr David Shahar and Associate Professor Mark Sayers in 2016, has recently attracted increased media attention.

Dr Shahar, who was completing his PhD at USC at the time of the study, said the large "horn-like" bony growths were once exclusive to older patients, as they resulted from long-term load on the skeleton, so was surprised to find many of the growths in younger people.

"This is evidence that musculoskeletal degenerative processes can start and progress silently from an early age," Dr Shahar said.

"These findings were surprising because typically they take years to develop and are more likely to be seen in the ageing population.

"It is important to understand that, in most cases, bone spurs measure a few single millimetres and yet we found projections of 10 to 30 millimetres in the studied young population."

Two examples of large bone spurs off the back of the head. These two bone spurs are up to 3cm long. Top image is a 28 year old and the bottom is 58. The top shouldn't be that far advanced.
Two examples of large bone spurs off the back of the head. These two bone spurs are up to 3cm long. Top image is a 28 year old and the bottom is 58. The top shouldn't be that far advanced. University of the Sunshine Coast

Further testing including MRI scans and blood testing ruled out the possibility that the growths were the result of genetic factors or inflammation.

Dr Shahar said the findings offered a warning about "the early and silent development of bone and joint damage due to poor posture" and highlighted the need for prevention intervention through posture modification when using hand-held technologies.

"We hypothesise that the sustained increase load at that muscle attachment is due to the weight of the head shifting forward with the use of modern technologies for long periods of time," Dr Shahar said.

"Shifting the head forwards results in the transfer of the head's weight from the bones of the spine to the muscles at the back of the neck and head."

"The increased load prompts remodelling on both the tendon and the bony ends of the attachment. The tendon's footprint on the bone becomes wider to distribute the load on a larger surface area of the bone."

Do you spend too much time on your smartphone?

This poll ended on 19 July 2019.

Current Results

Yes, it's very addictive.

100%

No, but I know people who do.

0%

I'm not sure.

0%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Dr Sayers, who was Dr Shahar's supervisor for the study, said the pair were still collaborating on research with plans to develop resources to help avoid the problem, particularly for school children.

"The thing is that the bump is not the problem, the bump is a sign of sustained terrible posture, which can be corrected quite simply," Dr Sayers said.

He said the answer was to balance mobile phone use with recalibration of body posture, use specially contoured pillows or do exercises that involved lifting the upper chest.

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