How often in restaurants, parks, buses, at home and even in traffic, do you see the tell-tale dipped head, the sign that a user is entranced by their phone?
According to two researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, dipped heads have consequences, especially in the young. Their study, published in Nature Research’s Scientific Reports, suggests that due to head dip bone spurs, called enthesophytes, are growing out of the back of people’s skulls, and the problem is especially prevalent in the young.
While it is well known exercise causes muscle and lung function to improve, it is only relatively recently that people are becoming aware our skeletons are malleable too. Increased stresses, strains and activity cause bones to grow stronger and even change shape, while inactivity causes them to grow more brittle.
The study’s authors, David Shahar and Mark Sayers, say our relatively heavy heads are perfectly balanced when sitting or standing upright, but when we dip, the load weight is moved from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone growth to cope with the strain. The “phone bones,” as they’ve been dubbed by Australian media, tend to be between 10 and 31 mm long.
In the past, the growths were thought to be quite rare and only found in older people. However, over the past four years, the researchers have published three papers that show, using X-Rays, the growths are found in 41 per cent of young adults, with men more susceptible than women. As the bone spurs take a long time to grow, they would have been growing since early childhood. Buoyed by their findings, the researchers decided to see if the protuberances are prevalent in the general population too. They used a sample of 1,200 subjects aged between 18 to 86 and found the growths in 33 per cent of them. With each decade of age, the rate of growths dropped, suggesting a problem in the young.
The bone spurs have been discovered previously, but the study is thought to be the first to link them with technological use.
In their study, they write the condition “may be linked to sustained aberrant postures associated with the emergence and extensive use of hand-held contemporary technologies, such as smartphones and tablets. 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.”
Tablet and smart phone use have also been linked to other health issues; with forearm, back and neck pain, as well as migraines reported. In Shahar and Sayer’s 2018 paper, they cited another author’s research who studied university staff and students and found they spend an average of 4.65 hours a day using hand held mobile devices, with 68 per cent reporting neck pain.