There’s been a good deal of concern voiced by the older generation about the tremendous amount of time that the younger generation is spending bent over their devices. Some of the objections are just a matter of lack of familiarity: the typical disapproval voiced over any kind of technological shift. But some has been voiced as a matter of real concern.
People worry about distracted driving, shortened attention spans, and a phenomenon known as text neck. Though some have scoffed at the idea that spending too much time looking down at a screen could have that much of an impact on physical wellbeing, consider this: studies have revealed that young people are experiencing changes in their physical make-up: small bone spurs are developing at the base of their skull, specifically because of the constant forward tilting of their heads.
Bone spurs that occur anywhere in the body are generally a result of physical stress. In this case, the stress is being placed between the spine and the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the considerable weight of the individual’s head. When weight is transferred chronically, the pull has the same effect that occurs with any constant source of pressure: just as manual workers’ hands are toughened and constantly walking barefoot creates thicker skin on the bottom of the feet, hours of gazing downward are causing a buildup at the base of the skull that is forming a virtual hook: it has been described as looking like a horn.
The researchers who discovered the bony growth hail from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia, and they say that what they’ve found represents a change that represents a real danger of permanent, even disabling pain in the future.
Where text neck is a muscle-based ache, what they have observed represents permanent physical change at a deep level, and since it is being seen in young people, it is unclear exactly what the long-term impact might be on their health and physical abilities as they age.
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, they ask, “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?”
Though the paper’s lead author, David Shahar, is primarily concerned about long-term effects, he has also said that the “head horns” or “phone bones” already have the potential for causing pain in the upper back and neck, as well as headaches. One of the aspects of the bone spurs that is causing particular concern is their size: where a typical bone spur is considered large if it measures between 3 and 5 millimeters in length, the outgrowths recorded in the study measured 10 millimeters at a minimum.
Other experts have indicated that they are less concerned about the potential for pain than the more obvious indication that the body is so severely misaligned when device users are using their phones or tablets that they are creating such significant physical changes. “These formations take a long time to develop, so that means that those individuals who suffer from them probably have been stressing that area since early childhood,” Shahar agreed.
If you are experiencing neck or back pain that you believe is a result of poor posture while using a device, or for any other reason, our New Jersey spine specialists can help. Contact us today for a consultation.