Researchers are warning of a new side effect of constant cell phone use.

By Maggie O'Neill
June 20, 2019

It’s no secret that your cell phone can disrupt your health. But here’s a potential risk of cell phone use you may not have seen coming: A new study suggests our skeletons are adapting to our handheld device obsession.

How so? By helping us adjust to a position that most of us who are constantly checking our emails are familiar with: phone in hand, head bent down.

Researchers from Australia say cell phones might be the reason young adults are developing “enlarged external occipital protuberance” (EEOP). The occipital bone is the main bone of the lower part of the skull. What the scientists are saying is that our bodies are adjusting to worsening posture by growing a horn-like spike at the base of our skulls to relieve pressure induced by hours spent hunched over our phones.

Researchers wanted to know how prevalent this adaptation may be. Overall, 33% of the 1,200 men and women, ages 18 to 86, in the study exhibited EEOP. The researchers’ conclusions were published in the journal Scientific Reports in December 2018.

A word about the people in the study: As a PBS article points out, researchers relied on participants who had previously sought help from a chiropractor; it wasn’t a random sample of cell phone users. So the results might not be applicable to the general population.

The new report cites previously published survey results in a population of Canadian university students, faculty, and staff. The survey found that participants spend an average of 4.65 hours a day on a hand-held device. Sixty-eight percent of participating students reported having neck pain.

“We hypothesize that the use of modern technologies and hand-held devices may be primarily responsible for these postures and subsequent development of adaptive robust cranial features in our sample,” the researchers wrote.

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They emphasize that the prevalence of EEOP among young people might not be good news for the ways our skeletal and muscular systems (together called “musculoskeletal”) work.

“Our findings raise a concern about the future musculoskeletal health of the young adult population and reinforce the need for prevention intervention through posture education,” the report says.

The authors caution that poor health and disability due to musculoskeletal disorders impose “increasing physical, social and financial burdens on individuals and societies.”

They don’t say, however, what specific preventative measures should be put into place.

This post has been updated for clarity and accuracy.

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