The recent report about “horns” or the correct term “bone spurs,” has spurred a lot of attention from the public, especially on social media. This finding has caused a wave of hysteria, mostly coming from teens and young adults who are the main subjects of the research conducted by two Australian professors in their quest to explore the perils of modern technology.
Growing horn-like structures became the talk of the town (even in ancient times), where in most cases, older people have the tendencies to develop them. However, the same strange phenomenon resurfaced after a BBC report — about how modern life is transforming the human skeleton — detailing a handful of studies about bone shifting and a spiky growth at the base of the skull. This subject interests the media, where some explore out of the topic, emphasizing the continued reliance on phones causing the younger generation to change their body structure.
How true is the study?
Unfortunately, as reports on how young adults can develop horn-like structure at the back of their skull, continued to spread in different media platforms. Many scientists and experts believe that the findings are absurd and lack proper research to support the claim further.
It’s an intriguing idea, but according to experts, it is not the case at all.
Dr. David Shahar and Associate Professor Mark Sayers from the University of the Sunshine Coast, published the study last year. Both researchers examined 218 X-rays images of people aged between 18 to 30 with 41 percent developing a bony bump at the back of their heads with a size ranging from 10 millimeters to 30 millimeters.
The study, however, does not mention “horns” nor appeared on the original paper of the BBC story. That term was used by media, later on, to gain the attention of the public somehow. What the author explained is that the use of bony bump is “just to describe its shape, not to describe anything else in terms of metrics associated at a cellular level and so forth.”
If it’s not the horn, then what is it?
In scientific terms, this small protrusion is called “bone spurs” that grow in the “external occipital protuberance” — the region of the skull where bone may form over the ligaments and tendons connected at this part of the head. People may not be growing horns, but the fact is that humans can develop unusual spurs at the back of their skull, starting from a younger age.
The study in question examined 1,200 x-rays of males and females between 18 and 86 years old. The researchers found the 18-30-year-old age group had the highest incidence of protrusion, and that the “size of the bone growth decreased with age” according to the Washington Post.
However, this is not true since the protrusion increases right after you reach your 40s. It is only that the youngest age group has an abnormally high incidence of the protrusion.
Moreover, unusual growth is not entirely dangerous or considered to be a degenerative change. It can happen in different parts of our body as we age and might be present in many of our skulls.
Hypothesizing doesn’t mean it is a fact
Another cloudy observation is that no data within the paper support any conclusion that the protrusion is a significant effect of phone use. Instead, Shahar and Sayers, the authors of the study, hypothesize that the use of modern technologies and handheld devices may be responsible for these postures. But a hypothesis is neither a fact nor a research-based finding, only a proposed justification that needs further in-depth researches.
According to Natalie Sims, a bone Biologist at St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, debunked the idea that “horns” is a sign of skeletal degradation or associated with posture problems.
Sims explained that protrusion is not a bad thing, and there’s not enough evidence to suggest they are associated with adverse outcomes. She further analyzed that if phones were causing “horns,” then it might only be a psychological adaptation to changing circumstances.
Lack of data and extensive research
The paper pointed out a case in 1875 of the French surgeon’s analysis of the bone, but that does not support the data of how young adults developed the said growth over the past centuries. There is no historical record or previous study that a horn-like structure is starting to appear in humans before
Beth Mole, Ars Technica’s health reporter, noted in her recent article that Dr. Shahar, who also goes by the name, Dr. Posture online, received a financial incentive in publicizing modern lifestyles causing a deformity in one’s bone structure. And due to the publicity of the 2018 research finding by two chiropractors, the fear spread like wildfires — which in fact, a non-proven correlation to growing horns.
The media is a powerful tool that can make or break us. Reporting about “growing horns” due to the excessive use of smartphones is genuinely an interesting and eye-catching headline. But inline to the core of responsible journalism, one should not forget its responsibility to the people, which is to provide factual news based on researches and actual evidence.
Now that false information is widespread, a single post can cause deception, panic, and fear, and a growing number of misinformed people is something that is not what the world needs.
The Washington Post‘s story has been shared 10,000 times on Facebook. However, experts argue to debunk that idea. For teens and young adults out there, your smartphones will not give you horns. Instead, poor posture could lead to bone spurs, which is something that you should not worry — at all.