Study says cell phones are causing people to grow 'horns' — but is it true?

A 2018 study that was recently brought to light in articles by the BBC, Washington Post, Fortune and more claims that cell phones are causing young people to grow "horns." 

The research, conducted by two chiropractors in Queensland, Australia and published in the journal of Scientific Reports, says that external occipital protuberance (also called enlarged EOP and known as horn-like bone spurs) are growing in humans due to "sustained aberrant postures associated with the emergence and extensive use of hand-held contemporary technologies, such as smartphones and tablets." 

To put it simply, the "horns" are said to be growing at the bottom of the skull, where the head bends to look down at a cell phone—human bodies are physically adapting to use modern technology. 

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Surprising reasons you may have back pain
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Surprising reasons you may have back pain

You're stressed out

"Emotional outlook is a big predictor of back pain," says Todd Sinett, a New York City-based chiropractor and author of 3 Weeks To A Better Back. Mental distress manifests itself physiologically, says Sinett. "If you're uptight for a long period of time, that muscle tension can lead to aches and spasms," he says. Common areas for stress-triggered back pain include the neck and shoulder region and lower back. Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing (inhale slowly for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four), a walk, or yoga. (Don't miss these 15 everyday habits that are seriously damaging your spine.)

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Your heels are too high

Your fashionable shoe collection might be bothering your back. "High heels throw off your center of gravity," says William Suggs, a certified personal trainer and licensed sports nutritionist in New York City. Heels make you lean forward to walk, put extra pressure on the feet, and cause you to not fully extend the calf. This puts more strain and stress on the lower back, which can cause pain, he says. "If you must wear heels for work, invest in a nice pair of walking shoes for the commute and change at the office," says Suggs.

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Your diet is 'dirty'

A 2014 study in the Asian Spine Journal found that about 31 percent of women and 25 percent of men who suffered from back pain also had gastrointestinal complaints, such as abdominal pain or food intolerance. The link between nutrition and back pain is all about inflammation; foods high in fat and sugar trigger inflammation throughout the body, including the lower back. When Sinett's father injured his back, he saw an improvement in back pain symptoms when he cut back on sugar and caffeine. Aim for "clean" whole foods instead of processed ones whenever possible. "Always have a protein like lean meat or beans, a good whole grain like brown rice, and vegetables," Suggs says. (Put a new pep in your step using these five exercises that can ease back pain!)

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Your pants are too tight

Skinny jeans could be doing a number on your back. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, MD, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine told Shape.com that too-tight outfits constrict the body, which limits your range of motion and can strain your back, neck, and shoulders. The biggest fashion culprits? Skinny jeans and pencil skirts. For clothes that are snug but not skintight, look for fabrics with a bit of stretch to them. Make sure you can easily slip a finger under the waistband.

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You sit on your duff all day

"Inactivity is one of the most detrimental things you can do to your body," says Suggs. "Your muscles get used to being in that seated position, so they tighten up." To combat sitting-induced muscle stiffness and tightness, stretch your lower posterior muscles (Achilles, calves, hamstrings, and glutes) when you wake up. "When those start to tighten then your lower back starts to feel the brunt of the pain," says Suggs. He also suggests a quick stretch midday and before bed. "It's also a good idea to get up and walk around a few times throughout the day, and to make sure your back is supported and not slouched when you are seated, says Suggs. (Check out the reasons why your back pain could actually be a warning sign of sciatica.)

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You're still smoking

A recent Northwestern University study found that smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain. "[Smoking] affects the way the brain responds to back pain and seems to make individuals less resilient to an episode of pain," the researchers said in a news release. Smokers who quit their nicotine habit during the study period experienced a decrease in chronic pain. Previous studies found that smoking may damage tissue in the lower back by slowing down circulation, which reduces the flow of nutrients to back muscles.

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You're skipping ab workouts

A strong core could combat an achy back. "If your abs are weak, your lower back has to work harder, which can lead to back pain," says Suggs. Try plank, superman, or bird dog exercises, which engage your erector spinae, the muscle that keeps your spine erect and helps maintain correct posture, he says. Pay attention to your midsection throughout the day. "Your core should never be relaxed, whether you're sitting or walking; that's when you put yourself at risk for developing pain," says Suggs. (These are the 24 secrets about pain every doctor wants you to know!)

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You have uneven hips

Many people have no idea that their hips are uneven, which means one side of your pelvis is slightly higher than the other, says Suggs. The imbalance can cause lower back pain in your day-to-day life, and often becomes especially apparent while you work out. "It affects how your body responds to certain moves and will be different for everyone," he says. For example, if your left hip is higher and you do a lunge on the left side, you may feel that hip muscle pull tighter. If you notice persistent back pain during a workout, Suggs suggests seeing your doctor before trying to cure yourself. "Your doctor can evaluate your whole body and detect potential imbalances," he says. (Watch out for these signs of back pain that may be more damaging to your health than you think!)

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You're dehydrated

The bones of your spine have discs between them, each partly made up of a jelly-like substance that is 90 percent water. Your body needs a steady stream of fluid coming in to help keep that cushioning intact, according to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health. When your body lacks hydration, those discs become flatter and less cushiony, which can lead to pain. A good way to know if you're drinking enough to water is to look in the toilet. Your urine should be clear or light yellow; if it's dark yellow, grab some H20.

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You have a urinary tract infection

Pain in the lower and upper back or sharp pains in the flank (side) can be a sign that a urinary tract infection has spread to the kidneys. If you've noticed other classic UTI symptoms like increased urge to urinate or pain during urination, see a doctor immediately for treatment. (Make sure you know the signs that your mysterious back pain is actually arthritis!)

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But, are the claims linking cell phone use to changes in bone structure really true? If you're currently feeling around the back of your head for horns or examining your teenager, you might not have much cause for concern.

The New York Times spoke to medical experts in physical therapy and neurosurgery and they had some major doubts in regards to the technology correlation.

Dr. David J. Langer, the chairman of neurosurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said that the most common conditions that arise in people who spend a lot of time looking down are definitely not horns, but disc problems.

“You’re more likely to get degenerative disc disease or misalignment in your neck than a bone spur growing out of your skull,” Dr. Langer said. “I haven’t seen any of these, and I do a lot of X-rays. I hate being a naysayer off the bat, but it seems a little bit far-fetched."

Forbes interviewed bioarchaeologists who study human development, and although they've seen skeletal changes come from repetitive, unnatural movement, they had problems with the study's correlation of bone spurs to specifically cell phone use.

"I've seen plenty of enlarged EOPs in the early Medieval skulls I've studied — male ones, mostly," Nivien Speith of the University of Derby said. "It could be genetic, or even just a simple bony outgrowth that has unknown etiology. Often, they can occur through trauma to the area as well."

The biggest problems with the study many doctors and researchers have is that it lacks a control group and only uses subjects who are having neck trouble, uses X-rays taken in the past, uses subjects who are mostly adults and not adolescents, and that they don't prove the cause and effect.

Bone growth or degeneration can be caused by a number of things, but cell phones? We'll need more research to prove that. But either way, it's best to try to keep your head up. 

26 PHOTOS
Evolution of cell phones, smartphones
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Evolution of cell phones, smartphones
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: M2 Pocket Phone, manufactured by Excell Communications. Displayed with its headphones, leather protective case and user guide, the phone weighs approximately 0.75 kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: Rabbit telepoint telephone by Hutchison Personal Communications Ltd, together with park and charge unit. Size of telephone is 400mm by 350mm by 100mm and weighs approximately 3kg. Rabbit was a British location-specific (Telepoint) telephone service backed by Hutchison, who later went on to create the Orange GSM mobile network. The Rabbit network was the best-known of four such services introduced in the 1980's, the others being Phonepoint, Mercury Callpoint and Zonephone. Although Hutchison had been issued a licence for Rabbit in 1989 it took until May 1992 before the service was launched. Telepoint services such as Rabbit allowed subscribers to carry specially designed (CT2) home phone handsets with them and make outgoing calls whenever they were within 100 metres of a Rabbit transmitter. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 08: Mobile cellular telephone model M200 by Siemens AG, with one2one branding, less battery pack, 1991-2000 Dimensions: 190 by 65 by 35mm, weighing approximately 0.5kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: Mobile cellular telephone, mobile Phone manufactured by Motorola, weighing approximately 0.75 kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 02: The Vodac, by Vodaphone was produced between 1991-2000 and weighed approximately 0.5 kg. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 08: Mobile cellular telephone model CM-H333 by Sony sitting in its charging stand. Dimensions: 185 by 55 by 70mm and weighing approximately 0.5 kg (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 09: The Motorola company was founded by Paul V Galvin as the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, in Chicago, Illinois, in 1928. In the 1930s the company began promoting portable car radios under the brand name �Motorola� (a word suggesting sound in motion), and the company name was changed to Motorola Inc in 1947. By the end of the 1980s, Motorola had become the biggest worldwide supplier of cellular telephones. When it was launched in 1996, the pocket-sized StarTAC, at just 93g (3.1 ounces), was the world�s smallest phone and the first to operate continuously with dual detachable batteries. This example was manufactured by Motorola Inc in the United States. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 20: Taking mobile phones apart by hand and sorting the pieces for recycling is expensive. This phone was designed by Joseph Chiodo, a researcher at Brunel University in Surrey, to 'recycle' itself. It is made from special metals and plastics which have 'memories' of their original shape. When heated up, they lose their current form and revert to the shape they remember: different parts are triggered to change shape at different temperatures. The phone then �pops� apart, ready for recycling. Pieces can be picked out for reuse and the parts containing toxins can be separated. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
JAPAN - FEBRUARY 15: Launched on the 1st September 2000, the Nokia 3310 featured advanced messaging, personalisation with Xpress-on covers and screensavers, vibra feature, time management functions, voice dialling, picture messaging, predictive text input and games. It also introduced �mobile chat� using the Nokia Friends-Talk service, which allows users to have conversations using SMS (Short Message Service). This is a globally accepted wireless service that enables the transmission of messages between mobile users and external systems such as e-mail, paging, and voice-mail. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE: Shares order are displayed on the screen of mobile phone which uses the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) services for e-trading in a demonstration at the launching of Asia Pacific's first Mobile E-Trading on WAP in Singapore 09 March, 2000. Singapore's leading retail stockbroking firms, Ong & Company Partners, signed an agreement in partnership with SingTel Mobile for for the co-marketing in the e-trading service called iROAM, the first transactional service of its kind to utilize the WAP platform in the Asia-Pacific region. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Roslan RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE: Shown is Sendo International's Z100 multimedia smartphone at a news conference during the GSM World Congress in Cannes, France February 21, 2001. The Z100 phone features a color screen and runs on the Microsoft smartphone platform. The phone also features Microsoft's Mobile Explorer for the Internet, Mobile Outlook, a Windows Media player and USB connectivity. The phone will be on the market in the autumn of 2001. AFP PHOTO/JEFF CHRISTENSEN (Photo credit should read JEFF CHRISTENSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Young girls using mobile phones. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)
SEOUL, REPUBLIC OF KOREA: A South Korean model displays a LG Electronic new DMB (digital multimedia broadcasting) mobile phone handsets which can show television broadcasts real time during an exhibition in Seoul on 15 November 2004. The South Korean electronics firm claimed the handsets were the world's first ground-wave DMB mobile phone. AFP PHOTO/WANG JUN-YOUNG (Photo credit should read WANG JUN-YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images)
CellphoneCamera-Sept. 20, 2005-Photo Illustration of cell phone camera use. As camera phones grow more common, expect to see more incidents such as the man facing mischief and harassment charges after a suspect was caught taking lewd photos of little girls in a Toronto grocery store. Already there is a term for such behaviour: 'upskirting' and 'downblousing,' (pictures being taken down womens tops) and web sites devoted to the practice. (Photo by Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: In this photo illustration the Twitter website is displayed on a mobile phone on July 6, 2009 in London. The social network site started in 2006 in California as a sideline project, but has grown into a global brand becoming one of the fastest growing phenomenas of the Internet. (Photo Illustration by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Mobile telephones encrusted with diamond designs sit on display 23 November 2007 at one of Europe's most exclusive and trend-setting lifestyle trade fairs the Moscow Millionaire Fair 2007 in Moscow. The fair hosts the top names of the international luxury goods industry. AFP PHOTO / DIMA KOROTAYEV (Photo credit should read DIMA KOROTAYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
BERLIN - NOVEMBER 09: A young man checks out an Apple iPhone at a T-Mobile shop on the first day the mobile phone went on sale November 9, 2007 in Berlin, Germany. T-Mobile has the exclusive conract to sell the iPhone in Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) several mobile phones on advertising folders - 01.11.2008 (Photo by wolterfoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
SPAIN - DECEMBER 02: A consumer holds Nokia's new handset the N97, during the Nokia World 08 event in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008. Nokia Oyj, the world?s biggest maker of mobile phones, unveiled a new handset featuring a touch screen and full keyboard to challenge Apple Inc.?s iPhone and Research In Motion Ltd.?s BlackBerry devices. (Photo by Xabier Mikel Laburu/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Israeli people wait to purchase the new iPhone 3Gs at an Apple store on December 9, 2009 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Hundreds of people lined up at the Apple Store in Tel Aviv to be the first to purchase Apple's new iPhone 3Gs which is faster than the previous iPhone 3G and has several new features. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Vertu Ascent mobile handsets are seen after assembly at Nokia Oyj's Vertu luxury phone division in Church Crookham, U.K., on Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. Vertu, started by Nokia Oyj's then-chief designer Frank Nuovo in 1998, has sold more than 300,000 phones in the last decade and seen 'high double-digit sales growth' since the start of 2010, President Perry Oosting said. Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 07: A Windows phone 7 mobile phone sits on display at LeWeb Paris 2011 at Le 104 on December 7, 2011 in Paris, France. Since beginning in 2008, LeWeb Paris 2011 is the largest technology conference in Europe where Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the tech world gather while often announcing new products. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)
The Instagram logo is displayed on a smartphone on December 20, 2012 in Paris. Instagram backed down on December 18, 2012 from a planned policy change that appeared to clear the way for the mobile photo sharing service to sell pictures without compensation, after users cried foul. Changes to the Instagram privacy policy and terms of service set to take effect January 16 had included wording that appeared to allow people's pictures to be used by advertisers at Instagram or Facebook worldwide, royalty-free. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Apple Inc. iPhone 5C smartphone sits on display inside the Orange SA store in Toulouse, France, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. France's gross domestic product fell 0.1 percent in the three months through September, national statistics office Insee said in an e-mailed statement. Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Spice Android One Smartphone on September 15, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Running on stock Android the set is priced economically to target at people buying their first smartphone and costumers in developing world. Google manages the design, development, marketing, and support of these devices while all manufacturing are carried out by partnering original equipment manufacturers. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images)
A customer tries the touch screen feature on the new Apple Inc. iPhone 6s smartphone at a store in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. The 12.9-inch Apple Inc. iPad Pro tablet computer was released for sale in stores today and the Apple Pencil is available for order online. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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