In a BBC report about the changing human skeleton published last week, biomechanics researcher Dr. David Shahur of the University of The Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, says he’s noticed an increasingly common horn-like growth at the base of the neck — sometimes so large they can be seen and felt through the skin.
“I have been a clinician for 20 years,” Shahur says, “and only in the last decade, increasingly I have been discovering that my patients have this growth on the skull.”
These horns or “spikes,” which clinicians call an “external occipital protuberance,” were first noted in 1885, but thought to be so rare that French scientist Paul Broca — credited for his research on the area of the frontal lobe dubbed Broca’s area — argued the anomaly was undeserving of a medical diagnosis.
“He didn’t like it because he had studied so many specimens, and he hadn’t really seen any which had it,” says Shahur, who decided to pick up where scientists left off at the turn of the century.
Shahur believes the spikes may be caused by the habitual bent-neck posture of frequent mobile device users, which many already complain leads to neck pain. Holding this position for long periods of time can put extra pressure at the point where the neck muscles meet the skull.
To provide added support for the head, which weighs some 10 pounds in adults, the body compensates by developing new bone, which may help redistribute the weight.
In 2016, Shahur and his colleagues produced a study in the Journal of Anatomyinvestigating this phenomenon. They analyzed over 200 radiographs of patients between 18 and 30 years old, and found the growth in 41 percent of them.
The spikes were more common in males, with the largest — 1.4 inches — belonging to a man.
Last year, Shahur broadened his research to include older generations, and found the issue was more prevalent among young people, many of whom were practically born with a smart device in their hands. Of the 1,200 total individuals in the Scientific Reportsstudy, 33 percent of them had protrusions. Those in the 18 to 29 age group had the highest rate of prevalence — indicating that newer technology may be playing a role.
Shahur assures that these spikes are not cause for medical treatment, but once they’re there, there’s probably no getting rid of them.
He tells the BBC, “Imagine if you have stalactites and stalagmites, if no one is bothering them, they will just keep growing.”
To minimize the growth, try improving your posture.