Theory of Skull Horns Debunked

There seems to be a lot of media buzz this summer about horns growing on young people’s skulls, and I’d just like to say hogwash, balderdash and baloney! What a total crock. I’m unconvinced by the study findings, to say the least.

There seems to be much media buzz about horns growing on young people’s skulls, and I’d like to say hogwash, balderdash, and baloney! What a total crock. I’m unconvinced by the study findings, to say the least.

There is a huge issue I have with the neck x-rays that researchers analyzed in the study. As a result, it is impossible to conclude the correlation between cell phone use and skull morphology.

An enthesis is the attachment point of a tendon, ligament, fascia, or capsule to the bone. The function of the enthesis is to distribute force over a large area of bone.

A bone spur, also called an osteophyte, is an outgrowth of bone that can occur along the bone’s edges. They may also occur where muscles, ligaments, or tendons attach to the bone.

One common bone spur is the calcaneal spur caused by the constant pull or traction on the heel from overpronation or fallen arches. Calcaneal bone spurs are frequently associated with plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the band of tissue (plantar fascia) that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot.

The method by which a bone spur develops follows the biomechanics of Wolff’s Law, which states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads under which it is placed. In other words, repetitive loading of bone will cause adaptive responses that enable the bone to cope better with these loads.

Skull Horns

From a biomechanical point of view, these skull horns, in theory, may be an adaptive mechanism we’ve developed to cope with the increased weight of the head when texting or using cell phones. I agree this is possible, but occipital osteophytes have been present on skulls long before the use of cell phones.

One of the best textbooks I’ve ever read (and I’ve read Volume 1 & 2 cover to cover, which amounts to about 2,000 pages) is Terry Yochum and Lindsay Rowe’s, Essentials of Skeletal Radiology. Before Dr. Yochum’s text, there had never been a chiropractic textbook published by a major publisher. The new edition is a mandatory text for all chiropractic students, and countless medical colleges require it in their curriculum.

On page 255 of the 2nd edition (Volume One), you will find the following, under the section, An Atlas Of Normal Skeletal Variants:

Prominent External Occipital Protuberance..There is a prominent external occipital protuberance, which is considered a variation of normal.

Looking more closely at the Journal of Anatomy study, I found that the x-ray images presented suggest another interesting finding. All of the x-ray images shown are of cervical spines with altered neck curves.

The study authors report their subjects as apparently healthy, asymptomatic, and mildly symptomatic young adults. I want to suggest that a misaligned altered cervical curvature is anything but healthy.

Cell Phones or Car Crashes?

Overt neck trauma (often resulting from a motor vehicle accident) resulting in alternate neck curvature is a serious health condition and far from apparently healthy.  Neck trauma (from an MVA) may cause vertebral compression fractures that cause the vertebral body to collapse into a wedge’s shape. This causes the spine section to tip forward, leading to a loss of the neck’s normal curvature.

MVA may also damage the ligaments along the back of the cervical spine leading to loss of the normal neck curve. If the kyphosis gets bad enough, it can narrow the spinal canal and pressure the spinal cord. Due to the relationship of the neck’s neurovascular structures, it isn’t hard to see that altered neck curves will cause nerve and vascular interference and manifest into pain and discomfort, fatigue, sleep disorders, organ dysfunction, depression, and eventually disease.

I do agree that a traction spur in the occiput bone of the skull is possible following Wolff’s Law of biomechanical adaption, but is this bony skull horn a normal variant, an adaptive process due to cell phone usage, or a result of past traumas (MVAs) that alter neck curves, change the mechanical loading in the head and ultimately cause adaptive changes to the bone? Clearly, further research is needed.

X-ray from the skull-horn study – the green line is normal.
 X-rays from skull horn study – Altered neck curves in red

In the images above, the flat or reversed neck curves are in red, and the normal or ideal neck curves in green. There is also evidence of moderate to severe degenerative disc disease (DDD) in these x-rays. Note that the disc degeneration is most severe where the curve flattens or reverses (red arrows).

The authors also reported that the prevalence of a skull horn (or prominent external occipital protuberance) was significantly higher in the male (67.4%) than in the female population (20.3%).

Even more interesting to me is that in this study, 7,720 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2001, 75% of which were men. This is largely due to differences in risk-taking behaviors between men and women, particularly younger men. This male/female prevalence is remarkably similar to the sex divide seen in the skull horn study. Hmmm.

The fact is that MVAs statistically damage the shape of your cervical lordosis (normal neck curve). Researchers from Chiropractic BioPhysics (Harrison DE, Katz E. Abnormal static sagittal cervical curvatures following motor vehicle collisions: Literature review, original data, and conservative management strategies. Proceedings of the International Whiplash Trauma Congress 2006; Portland, OR, June 2-3, pages 24-25) have identified:

That the average patient exposed to a MVC will lose 10 degrees of their cervical lordosis, develop a mid cervical kyphosis, and have increased forward head posture as a result of the MVC.

Cell Phone Warning

One conclusion from the horned skull study that I absolutely agree with is that our young adult population should take heed and act now to prevent poor posture‐related conditions in the future.

The more important question we should be asking – even though horns growing from our skulls is far more attention-grabbing – is: What is our sedentary mobile lifestyle doing to our children? Will, our children, be active and healthy well into their senior years, or will there be an influx and shortage of senior home placements for our 70-somethings.

Further Resources: Text Neck Pain Relief Stretches and Exercises – How to avoid neck pain, fix Text Neck and improve your forward head posture

If you or your children spend prolonged periods of time using mobile devices – cell phones, iPads, computers, or anything that encourages your head to travel forward and down, you are putting yourself at risk for future health problems. Here are three ways you can act now to encourage your children to develop healthy posture habits:

  1. Teach your children to move their eyes, not their heads when texting.

2. Complete the Text Neck Inventory with your child.

3. Teach your child (and do it with them) how to do a basic chin tuck.

Cervicogenic Headache Exercises

The cervicogenic headache is described as a unilateral or one-sided headache, generally starting in the neck and moving forwards. The headache generally dominates on one side. When the headache is severe however, it may also be felt on the opposite side, but to a lesser extent.

The 5-Step Cervicogenic Headache Protocol

I can’t remember when I had my first headache, but it was sometime in my early 20s. I’ve had a lifetime of headaches. My headaches have been the bane of my life but also my constant companion and gift.

Last Saturday, en route to a barn dance, I had a whopper of a headache. I’m not too fond of perimenopause for the resurgence of headaches in the last two years. However, if it were not for my headaches, I would never have found Dr Brian Sher (Toronto Chiropractor), who provided my first neck adjustment that vanished my headache on the spot and paved the way to Chiropractic college. For that, I am immensely grateful.

Headaches changed the trajectory of my life, for the better.

Here’s the problem that I see with headaches. Most people burdened by headaches can not think clearly enough to take the steps necessary to rid their lives of the misery of chronic pain.

I get it – that was me!

I couldn’t get through the day without a muzzy painful head. I didn’t really know why I was having daily headaches, I just wanted to be like everyone else, who smiled and laughed and went to work and generally just got on with life.

That wasn’t me. I was working for the Sport’s Clubs of Canada at the time. I remember being at my desk, rubbing my head in misery while trying to complete my sales calls. The pain wasn’t particularly dramatic – it just seemed to be there more days than not. It was a burden, a drain, a constant weighing down. Life didn’t feel as good with a headache.

One day, I discovered I didn’t have to live my life with the burden of a headache. That was the moment I had my first Chiropractic adjustment, and that moment changed my life.

Recently, I’m reminded of what it is to have chronic headaches, due to my current hormonal haze of perimenopause. A resurgence of headaches, has me eager to share my knowledge of headache, and how I survive and treat my own headaches successfully – for the most part. I am quite certain this can help you too.

Cervicogenic Headaches

The term “cervicogenic headache” was actually coined in 1983. Although there is long-standing notion that headaches can originate from structures in the neck and can be treated using manual approaches, it is only during the past two decades that the topic of cervicogenic headache has gained attention in mainstream medical literature.

Signs and Symptoms

The cervicogenic headache is described as a unilateral or one-sided headache, generally starting in the neck and moving forwards. The headache generally dominates on one side. When the headache is severe however, it may also be felt on the opposite side, but to a lesser extent.

There are also signs pertaining to the neck, such as reduced range of motion in the neck and mechanical stimulation applied on the affected neck area reproducing the headache symptoms. These strongly suggest cervical involvement in producing the headaches. Sometimes, same side shoulder/arm sensations and even pain have been reported.

People with a cervicogenic headache may report that the pain fluctuates, is continuous, lasts only a very short period of time, begins after long intervals, or starts up upon waking in the morning.


Studies support that cervicogenic headache is common. However, there is a great deal of variation in the perceived prevalence in the general population. For example, prevalence rates seem to range from 0.4% to 80%. It seems the disparity is due to contrasting diagnostic criteria being used in each study. The average affected age is 43,2, and the female/male distribution appears to have more agreement in the literature at 80% female, 20% male.

Resources: 1


There appear to be three main causes of cervicogenic headache discussed in the literature.


The basic premise of convergence is that when sensory nerves (first-order neuron) detect information about mechanical, thermal, and chemical states of the body and send signals back to the spinal cord, they converge on other nerves (second-order neurons) that carry signals from the spinal cord to the head. Pain signals from the periphery then get perceived as pain in the head and face, where the second-order neurons carry signals to the head (brain).1


Disc degeneration, or degeneration in the neck’s facet joints, can cause inflammation and lead to irritation of sensory nerve endings for pain, called nociceptors.


In my clinical experience as a Chiropractor, trauma is frequently overlooked and a common cause of cervicogenic headache.  If you have a history of trauma – in particular, a past motor vehicle accident – and a history of chronic headaches, you need a cervical x-ray series to rule out structural changes to your natural neck curve (lordosis). These changes (flat curve – alordosis, or reversed neck curve – kyphosis), lead to degeneration and altered mechanics in the neck, which cause inflammation and irritation of the nerve endings responsible for pain.

The prevalence of joint pain (facet joints in the neck) after whiplash from a car accident has been reported as high as 54%.3

Neck Disability Index

Before you begin my cervicogenic headache protocol, I recommend you measure your starting point regarding self-reported disability. Howard Vernon developed a tool called the Neck Disability Index (NDI) in 1989. The NDI has become one of the standard evaluations for measuring disability due to neck pain and is used by both healthcare professionals and researchers. There are just 10 questions, and answers for each are scored from 0 to 5. The maximum possible score is 50.

You can see a copy of my own NDI report. Note my moderately high frequency of headaches (a recent resurgence since peri-menopause).

Bookmark the link to the Neck Disability Index and complete the evaluation before you begin my headache protocol and every month along the way, to objectively measure your progress in terms of disability.

Cervicogenic Headache Protocol

I’ve created an entire online course to help you treat your own cervicogenic headaches effectively; and I’ve also extracted a mini version for you here, which consists of 5 steps:

  1. Neck Disability Index: Complete the NDI before you progress through this protocol.
  2. Neck X-Rays: Have a cervical series of x-rays taken through your doctor or directly from your Chiropractor. Many Chiropractors have their own on-site digital facility, as I did. The standard series is Cervical AP (front to back) and Cervical Lateral (side view) and often APOM (an open mouth view to visualise the first two vertebrae C1 and C2). If in doubt as to why you need an neck x-ray to proceed, please refer back to the section Cause above and review the third cause, trauma.
  3. Range of Motion: Review the section above on signs and symptoms of cervicogenic headache. Reduced range of motion is almost always present in the neck of someone with cervicogenic headache. Whether or not the lost movement is the cause or the effect isn’t clear, but I stand by the need for increasing your cervical range of motion.
  4. Trigger Points: Myo-fascial trigger points, also known as muscle knots, are painful spots in the fascia (connective tissue) surrounding the muscle. Trigger points in the neck and shoulders are commonly associated with referred pain in the head. Refer back to signs and symptoms above. Recall that manual pressure applied to the affected neck area producing headache strongly suggests cervical involvement. So although self-applied trigger point therapy might initially bring on a headache (please use with caution); the idea is that regular administration, will lead to a reduced frequency and/or severity of cervicogenic headache.
  5. Stretch: After range of motion exercises and trigger point work, it is crucial you stretch your neck to elongate the muscles out to their full length. Although stretching as a treatment is going out of style, I still find it immensely beneficial and stretching often reduces or eliminates my headache on the spot!

It probably works about the same way that stretching out a calf cramp works: you win the tug-of-war with the spasming muscle. Paul Ingraham

If you enroll in my How to Get Rid of Headache and Migraine, I know it will help you. In the course you find out everything I know about headaches and learn the actual exercises and techniques I’ve used so successfully to treat my own chronic headache pain for over two decades. These exercises have the potential to alleviate even the most chronic of headaches. Not only do I cover my top seven self-treatment techniques, but I also teach you how to rule out worrying red flags, give you several ergonomic best practices and share with you the top three researched methods for outsourcing headache treatment.

If you don’t enroll, the Cervicogenic Headache Protocol above will be an excellent place to begin.



Coffee and Bone Health – pH, Porridge and Posture | Posture Doctor

Recently a young computer scientist and student at Posture School, asked me a question about how our lifestyle – in particular caffeine – affects posture.

Thanks doctor for making this course. You mentioned caffeine in bad side of things for posture. I do not have other issues in my lifestyle but I do take a lot of caffeine. Can you please elaborate on that part? Divyendu

Most of us are a little surprised to learn that the foods (and drinks) we consume regularly, like bread, cheese, meat, sugar, coffee and milk, may be weakening our bones.

Our blood is slightly alkaline (the opposite pH to acid) and that is where it prefers to be.

Acid Alkaline Diet

In order to balance the acidity of a poor diet, calcium is leached from bone to balance our body chemistry and restore ideal pH. This is a very basic explanation, but for our purposes, it’s all we really need to understand.

Foods like strong cheeses, grains containing gluten, meat, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, soda drinks and dairy weaken our bones over time. The body does better with more alkaline foods.

Which grains are least acidic?

Non-glutenous grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat (yeah, buckwheat pancakes!!) are still considered acid forming, but rank lower on the acidity scale.

Calcium Rich Foods

To maintain strong bones, we need a good supply of calcium, and contrary to popular belief, dairy isn’t the best source. Diary is on the acidic side of the food chart, and is also not the easiest form of calcium to absorb.

Makes sense – humans drink milk from human mums and cows drink milk from cow mums. Some would argue, drinking milk past infancy is unnatural. However, I still enjoy milk in my Earl Grey tea!

Dark leafy greens, seeds and seafood are calcium rich foods. There are plenty of yummy non-dairy food choices, full of calcium.  

Vitamin D Foods

We also need Vitamin D for strong bones. We can think of the sun as food for our bones. Sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D; so we need at least 20 minutes outdoors every day without sun screen.

Given that the body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sun exposure declines with age, vitamin D supplements (or drops like I use from my Naturopath) are recommended for people over the age of 50. Sigh.

If you live in a northern latitude (Canada, Russia, United Kingdom and Scandinavia), you have some months of the year with limited sunshine. In these countries, vitamin D producing sunlight can only be captured by our skin between the months of May and October. This leaves us Northerners in the cold, with declining vitamin D levels in autumn and winter. Again, vitamin D supplements are advisable.

Fish oils are a perfect source of vitamin D. This is the one supplement I think we all need. I take two teaspoons a day of high quality fish oils. Get the best quality fish oils you can afford. I prefer liquid; most are lemon flavoured and I think fairly tasty.

Further Resources: 10 Foods High in Vitamin D

Bone Health & Exercise

You hear it all the time, but weight-bearing exercise is absolutely crucial to strong bones. Riding a bike and swimming are great for your heart, but they are non weight-bearing, so they don’t help your bones as such.

Fast paced walking with good arm swing and maybe even some Velcro weights around your ankles, is an easy bone-building exercise. Running if you are under 35 (too hard on the joints over 35); weight-lifting, martial arts and dancing are all fantastic!

Good Posture

Your posture is crucial to the health of your bones. If your body is out of its symmetrical alignment than there is uneven pressure and stress on your joints and this can lead to wear and tear (osteoarthritis) in those joints.

What to do? >> Posturecise – How to Create a Healthy Habit for Life


Back to caffeine. Studies suggest high doses of caffeine – I consider that more than three regular-sized mugs (not three massive Starbuck’s sized) – contribute to loss of bone by increased urinary calcium excretion and a decreased intestinal absorption of calcium.  This overall calcium loss can influence the normal development of bone (bone density) and predispose some (often post-menopausal women), to fractures later in life.

Studies show that caffeine sources that most influence bone loss include soda and coffee. Tea may actually have a protective effect. Yeah Earl Grey!

What can you eat?

Paula’s Porridge

  • ½ cup steel cut oats
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Handful of your favorite berries
  • 1 tbsp desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
  • 1 tbsp ground seeds (linseed, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower)
  • Add water (or milk) to give runny consistency
  • Cook on low heat for 20 minutes (to desired thickness)
  • Grate half an apple over top of cooked oats.
  • Add a little milk and maple syrup if desired.

Have a yummy strong bone recipe you love? Please share in the comments below.

Curl Downs vs. Sit-ups | Posture Doctor

Traditional sit-ups are a great way to cause disc bulging, herniations and ‘pinched nerves’ that can lead to sciatic leg pain and visual posture changes in your body.

Is your ab workout hurting your back?

Traditional sit-ups are a great way to cause disc bulging, herniations and ‘pinched nerves’ that can lead to sciatic leg pain and visual posture changes in your body.

Your lower back can only take so many repetitions of crunching before the discs begin to degenerate and wear.

Try this instead:

Further Resources: Posturecise (Level 1) – How to Create a Daily Posture Habit for Life