Every couple of years there’s some new medical report that scares the public into something, due to technology. From “phantom vibrations”, to “cell phone pinky”, to any degree of “internet scare” the media blames on kids. (Seriously, look it up, it’s been going on since the dawn of written media)
But we’re here to talk about the Occipital horn, aka, cell phones are making kids the devil.
This is quite literally called an “occipital horn” or “External Occipital Protuberance hyperostosis”. The specific location/landmark on the skull is known as the External Occipital Protuberance (abbreviated EOP) and is the attachment for the trapezius muscle, as well as the Nuchal ligament. What you’re looking at in that image, is actually an enthesophyte. It’s the nuchal ligament and/or trapezius’s attachment being converted to bone, to lessen the tug of the tension on it. People commonly get these in their feet “heel spurs” or in the pelvis at the hamstrings.
Why does this happen?
If I pulled really hard on your finger, and didn’t stop, it would cause pain. That pain, releases chemicals to inflame the area. The idea is, if there is pain, the body will predictably react in a way to remove the external stimulus causing it. However, if you didn’t remove the stimulus, those same chemicals will also act upon the structures being irritated, in an attempt to remove the irritant from the inside. This reaction is similar to osteoarthritis. The idea (from within your body) is that if the stimulus can’t be resolved from externally, then the body will slowly remodel to remove it from the inside.
In this case, the nuchal ligament (that is designed to resist the weight of the head from moving forward too much) and the trapezius muscle (the largest most robust muscle of the upper back, which aids in head/neck and shoulder movements) are overly irritated from holding the head in a forward manner. As they inflame and cause pain, but are ignored, the body’s genius idea is to grow bone, so the ligament/muscle aren’t as stretched and irritated. It’s a good idea, in theory. Shorten the distance, lessen the irritation. Except the body eventually will have to lay down, and these areas can cause irritation when lying on your back.
So What’s The Big Deal With This Story?
A bunch of reports are REALLY over emphasizing this reports finding, which shouldn’t really shock anyone. Most media sources report science as if it was magic, witchcraft, or some eldritch abomination of the two. It would behoove most major media outlets hire someone with some kind of medical expertise, and pay them to write this stuff, because as years go by, it only gets worse, with seemingly no reason for it to.
In this case, we’re left looking at a report from “Scientific Reports”, a study from David Shahar and Mark G.L. Sayers “Prominent exostosis projecting from the occipital squama more substantial and prevalent in young adult than older age groups”
What Did They Actually Find?
The study looked at 1200 participants, ages 18-86. They found prominent occipital protuberances more about 5.5x more frequent in males than females. The overly enlarged variants were referred to as EEOP or (Enlarged External Occipital Protuberance). By measuring and utilizing statistical comparison, they also linked forward head posture to the presence of EEOP. Having forward head posture was 1.03x more likely to “be related”. This was seen significantly with males between ages of 13 and 43. As age increased, and associated forward head posture increased, as did the likely hood of EEOP.
The study does identify that tablet/smartphone has been previously indicated to trigger increased activity of the trapezius, and that 68% of university staff/students assessed in a different story noted both neck pain, and increased use of handheld technology (averaging 4.65 hours per day), but as the study self-reports, this posture isn’t new. Bike riding, sleeping with high pillows, and many other activities have been around for decades, while prevalent symptoms of this are only now emerging.
Occipital hyperostosis, EEOP, and Occipital spurring aren’t a new case, but why so many in this area? As stated, forward head posture isn’t new. Monks used to read/write A LOT. (many were conscripted to produce early books, literally for life) that would have involved a lot of sitting and leaning forward. I guarantee, olde time people would have taken precedence against “religious” folk who reproduced Holy Scriptures, if they started growing horns while doing it. What about elite cycling/rowing athletes who spend hours a day training, bent over? Wouldn’t they show these same findings it it was only due to tension on the neck? Virtually EVERY office worker in America would have had this if it was simply due to poor posture for a decade or two.
The aspects of the study that they failed to address were two major ones. Physical activity level, and stress level. One can be measured simply by self-reporting how physically active the participant is/was. This one is pretty easy. If the muscles keep moving, they inflame less, irritate the attachment less, and as a result, don’t cause osseous growth, as much.
The bigger identifier I’d like to see, is stress level. Measure their cortisol levels. Short term release of this is helpful to the body, but long term release is detrimental. With extended secretion, it becomes very pro-inflammatory. (Similar to excessive insulin secretion with Type 2 diabetics. The body just starts to ignore its presence). In it’s pro-inflammatory “mode” cortisol promotes cellular aging. This will cause the cells in any overly inflamed area to repeatedly break down and regenerate poorly, as well as cells that can’t break down, to heal in the lead advantageous ways. (Securely, not effectively).
As we looked at in the osteoarthritis link above, what does the body do with repeatedly inflamed tissue, pain, and a reduced ability to heal? Ossify. Turn that thing that hurts into bone, so it can’t move/produce pain anymore. This suddenly links why older people demonstrated this change (age-related) and young kids are (stress-related).
Wait. Kids are THAT stressed?
Kids are more stressed than ever, and it’s not getting better. True to fashion, what people think is helping, isn’t. Kids are supposed to be kids. They aren’t supposed to have access to every kind of entertainment available, at their fingertips, they aren’t supposed to have access to everyone they know’s personal life, in real time, nor should they be sitting in classrooms forced to memorize/regurgitate information to pass tests (that no-one has really looked into whether those tests actually correlate with the lifelong success of the student). Kids are supposed to enjoy life and learn from the mistakes of their elders. Make mistakes of their own, that no-one will remember in a year.
If we can’t find a way to reduce the stress levels of kids, we’re going to see a lot more changes to their lives than benign skull adaptation from sitting for too long.
Especially considering elevated cortisol levels have also been linked to increased incidence of autoimmune disease.