Published 5:44 PM EDT Jun 20, 2019
The prevalence of technology in our day-to-day life is shaping our lives and bodies in unexpected, and sometimes alarming, ways.
A study documenting bone spurs that resemble “horns” growing on human skulls gained widespread media attention recently, following a recent BBC report showing possible future impacts of technology on the human skeleton. The spurs form as pressure is exerted on the neck and spine when looking down at a smartphone, researchers say.
They warn people should be worried about more than the spurs. “The bump is a sign of sustained terrible posture, which can be corrected quite simply,” said Dr. Mark Sayers said in a statement to 9 News.
While the bone spurs are getting newfound attention, many common health issues, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and eye strain stemming from too much computer use, have been amplified in the smartphone age. Here are a few of the more surprising health problems that researchers have connected to smartphone use:
Check your neck.
After inspecting hundreds of X-rays of adults aged 18 to 30, a study published last year in the Nature Research journal from two Australian researchers found bone growths on the back of nearly half of their heads. Media reports have widely said those growths look an awful lot like horns – an observation echoed by at least one researcher.
“You may say it looks like a bird’s beak, a horn, a hook,” said Dr. David Shahar, one of the researchers involved, to the Washington Post.
While the spurs don’t protrude from the head, they can be felt in some cases.
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Researchers hypothesized that the “horns” form as young people hunch down to use their mobile devices. The pressure this creates on the back of the neck and the head, they note, is three to five times higher than merely sitting up straight.
Until recently, these growths, called enthesophytes, were frequently associated with aging and were considered unusual for young people.
If you’re worried about head horns stemming from smartphone-induced bad posture, you may be suffering from “tech neck.” Tech neck is caused by spending too much time in “text position,” warned Dr. Evan Johnson from Columbia University in a blog post last year.
The more you tilt your head forward and down, the more gravity increases the weight to your neck, increasing the pressure exerted. (It’s similar to the reason head horns have begun sprouting.) For a person with an average head weight of 10 pounds, a 60-degree tilt is equivalent to 60 pounds of force.
Here’s how to tell that you might be facing tech neck: Check your profile sideways in a mirror, says University of California San Francisco associate professor Andrew Lui. If your ears are not aligned with your shoulders, your posture may be causing tech neck.
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It used to be called gamers’ thumb. But, with the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, texters’ thumb is spreading to the masses.
Caused by too much tapping and swiping, it’s a repetitive stress injury that leads to cramping and discomfort in the thumb and lower hand. It can worsen into thumb arthritis, says Robert Wysocki, an orthopedic surgeon at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Both can be painful, but texters’ thumb is temporary, while thumb arthritis can require surgery. The latter hasn’t been linked yet to smartphone use, however.
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Phantom vibration syndrome
If you’re worried that you’re missing out on a lot of notifications, only to find your phone hasn’t vibrated at all, you’re not alone. A study from Georgia Tech found nearly 90% of college undergraduates surveyed experienced the phenomenon.
Those who participated, according to the study, weren’t exactly bothered by phantom vibrations. But there’s some concern that our brains are being rewired to worry about who’s tweeting and messaging you.
“People who are constantly picking up their phone look like they have an obsession,” said psychologist Larry Rosen to NPR. “I’m not saying that it is an obsession, but I’m saying that it could turn into one, very easily.”
Researchers said the phenomenon tends to happen more to people who are reliant on communicating via text message.
Contributing: Jennifer Jolly, USA TODAY