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 is a very big issue I have with the neck x-rays that were analyzed in the study, and as a result, it is impossible to draw conclusions about correlation between cell phone use and skull morphology.
An enthesis is the attachment point of a tendon, ligament, fascia, or capsule to 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 edges of a bone. 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 over pronation 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 enables the bone to better cope with these loads.
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 text books I’ve ever read (and I’ve pretty much 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 study in the Journal of Anatomy, I found that the x-ray images presented suggest another more 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’d like to suggest that a misaligned altered cervical curvature is anything but healthy.
Cell Phones or Car Crashes?
Overt neck trauma (often the result of a motor vehicle accident) that results in alterned neck curvature, is a serious health condition and far from apparently healthy. Neck trauma (from a MVA) may cause vertebral compression fractures that cause the vertebral body to collapse into the shape of a wedge. This causes the section of spine to tip forward, which leads to a loss of the normal curvature of the neck.
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 put pressure on the spinal cord. Due to the relationship of the neurovascular structures in the neck, it isn’t hard to see that altered neck curves will cause nerve and vascular interference and can 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 in accordance with 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 bone? Clearly, further research is needed.
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 behaviours 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 MVA’s 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.
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:
- 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.