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Research suggests phone use is causing young people to grow horns on their skulls

Example radiograph of a 28-year-old male participant presenting with a large enthesophyte emanating from the occipital squama. This images is from a 2018 study by researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia that found th
Example radiograph of a 28-year-old male participant presenting with a large enthesophyte emanating from the occipital squama. This images is from a 2018 study by researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia that found that bone spurs at the back of the skull are more common among young people.
Scientific Reports

SALT LAKE CITY — In case you need yet another reason to put down your phone, here's one: Research from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, suggests that young people may be developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls from constantly leaning forward to look at their phones.

When people tilt their heads forward to look at a small screen, weight shifts from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head. The extra pressure can cause bone spurs, or bony projections, to form where the skull meets connecting tendons and ligaments, according to the study, published last year in Nature Research's peer-reviewed, open-access journal Scientific Reports.

"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 Washington Post reported.

Previous studies have documented the effects of excessive smartphone use on mental health, sleep and academic performance, but researchers David Shahar and Mark G.L. Sayers said their research documents the first skeletal adaptation to humans' evolving use of the technology.

“Our findings raise a concern about the future musculoskeletal health of the young adult population and reinforce the need for prevention intervention through posture improvement education,” the study reads.

To be clear, the bone spurs are not life-threatening and will not turn kids into horned monsters. Caroline Haskins writes for Vice that discussion of the findings has amounted to "little more than a moral panic about our use of new technology."

She notes the research does not prove that smartphone use causes the hornlike structures. Rather, the researchers found that the bony protrusions are more common among young people and made an educated guess as to the reason.

They examined 1,200 X-rays of people ages 18 to 86 taken in Queensland and found that one-third showed the bone spur, with the frequency decreasing with age. Larger spurs, those of 3 to 5 millimeters in length, were more prominent in younger people as well.

"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.

The solution is not necessarily swearing off technology, according to the researchers. Shahar recommends people practice having good posture and consider it as serious as brushing and flossing every day. Schools should teach simple posture strategies, he told the The Washington Post.

If you do have a horn growing at the back of your skull, Shahar told the the Post, you can probably feel it by running your hand over the lower part of the back of your head.