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Muscles of the neck: An overview: want to learn more about it?

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Muscles of the neck: An overview

The muscles in the neck are responsible for the movement of the head in the cervical region in all directions. The musculature of the neck is comprised of a number of different muscle groups. They can be divided into anterior, lateral and posterior groups based on their position in the neck. They are further divided into more specific groups based on a number of determinants; including depth, precise location, and function.

The position of the muscles in the neck generally relates to the function of the muscle or groups of muscles. For example, the muscles in the posterior neck are those which produce extension of the neck. The muscles of the neck are closely related to a number of important structures passing between the thorax and the head, including major blood vessels serving intra and extracranial regions, nerves, elements of the respiratory and gastrointestinal system and glands.

Key facts about the neck muscles
Anterior neck muscles

Superficial muscles - platysma, sternocleidomastoid, subclavius

Suprahyoids - digastric, mylohyoid, geniohyoid, stylohyoid

Infrahyoids - sternohyoid, sternothyroid, thyrohyoid, omohyoid

Scalenes - anterior, middle and posterior scalene muscles

Lateral (prevertebral) neck muscles

Rectus capitis 

Longus capitis

Longus colli

Posterior neck muscles

Superficial muscles - splenius capitis, splenius cervicis

Suboccipital muscles - rectus capitis posterior major, rectus capitis posterior minor, obliquus capitis inferior, obliquus capitis inferior

Transversospinalis muscles - semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis, rotatores cervicis, interspinales, intertransversarii

Anterior neck muscles

Superficial muscles

These are a group of 3 paired muscles in the anterior neck:

  • the platysma
  • sternocleidomastoid
  • subclavius muscles
Key facts about the superficial muscles
Platysma

Origin: skin/fascia of infra- and supraclavicular regions

Insertion: base of mandible, skin of buccal/cheek region, lower lip, modiolus, orbicularis oris muscle

Innervation: cervical branch of facial nerve (VII)

Function: depresses mandible and angle of mouth, tenses skin of lower face and anterior neck

Sternocleidomastoid

Origin

- sternal head: superoanterior surface of manubrium of sternum

- clavicular head: superior surface of medial third of clavicle

Insertion: lateral surface of mastoid process, lateral half of superior nuchal line

Innervation: accessory nerve (CN XI), anterior rami of spinal nerves C2-C3

Function:

- bilateral contraction - atlantooccipital joint/ superior cervical spine: head/neck extension; inferior cervical vertebrae: neck flexion; sternoclavicular joint: elevation of clavicle and manubrium of sternum

- unilateral contraction - Cervical spine: Neck ipsilateral flexion, Neck contralateral rotation

Subclavius

Origin: Costal cartilage, Sternal end of rib 1

Insertion: Anteroinferior surface of medial third of clavicle

Innervation: Nerve to subclavius (C5-C6)

Function: Sternoclavicular joint: Anchors and depresses clavicle

The platysma lies superficial to the investing layer of deep cervical fascia; the sternocleidomastoid and subclavius muscles are enclosed in this layer of fascia.

The platysma is a superficial sheath-like muscle. It originates directly from the skin overlying the regions above and below the clavicle, passing superiorly to insert on to the skin overlying the region of the lower jaw. Due to its direct attachment to the skin, the platysma is involved in facial expression, pulling the corners of the mouth inferiorly, such as in expression of sadness. It is innervated by the cervical branch of the facial nerve. The platysma is the muscle that is used to stretch the skin, making it taut and providing a smoother surface for shaving the neck region.

The sternocleidomastoid is a large, superficial muscle of the neck. It is the muscle that appears to run diagonally beneath the skin when the head is turned to the opposite side. It originates as two heads from the medial clavicle and the sternum, and passes superiorly to insert onto the mastoid process on the posterior aspect of the temporal bone. Unilateral (or one-sided) contraction of the sternocleidomastoid muscle produces lateral rotation of the head. Bilateral (both sides) contraction of the muscle produces flexion of the neck. It is innervated by the accessory nerve (the 11th cranial nerve), and anterior rami of spinal nerves C2 and C3.

Sternocleidomastoid muscle: Its name makes complete sense 1) sterno- (attaching to sternum) 2) cleido- (attaching to clavicle) and 3) -mastoid (attaching to mastoid process).

The subclavius is a small muscle located beneath the clavicle. It originates from the upper aspect of the 1st rib, and passes superiorly and laterally to insert onto the lower border of the clavicle. Its function is to pull the clavicle towards the sternum, reinforcing the sternoclavicular joint. Its innervation is the nerve to the subclavius, a branch of the upper trunk of the brachial plexus.

Why not make your studies easier with our head and neck muscle chart? These handy revision tables verified by experts will teach you everything you need to know about the attachments, innervations and functions of the musles of the neck.

Suprahyoid muscles

The suprahyoid muscles are a group of 4 paired muscles located above the hyoid bone in the neck. They all insert onto the hyoid bone and are involved in elevation of the bone during swallowing. Together, they partially form the floor of the oral cavity.

Key facts about the suprahyoid muscles
Digastric 

Origin

- anterior belly: digastric fossa of mandible

- posterior belly: mastoid notch of temporal bone

Insertion: intermediate digastric tendon (Body of hyoid bone)

Innervation:

- anterior belly: nerve to mylohyoid (of inferior alveolar nerve) (V3)

- posterior belly: digastric branch of facial nerve (VII)

Function: depresses mandible, elevates hyoid bone during swallowing and speaking

Mylohyoid 

Origin: mylohyoid line of mandible

Insertion: mylohyoid raphe, body of hyoid bone

Innervation: nerve to mylohyoid (of inferior alveolar nerve) (V3)

Function: forms floor of oral cavity, elevates hyoid bone and floor of mouth, depresses mandible

Geniohyoid

Origin: inferior mental spine (Inferior genial tubercle)

Insertion: body of hyoid bone

Innervation: anterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (via hypoglossal nerve)

Function: elevates and draws hyoid bone anteriorly

Stylohyoid

Origin: styloid process of temporal bone

Insertion: body of hyoid bone

Innervation: stylohyoid branch of facial nerve (VII)

Function: elevates and draws hyoid bone posteriorly

The digastric muscle consists of two parts or bellies, as suggested by its name. The anterior and posterior bellies are connected by a central tendon that is attached to the hyoid bone. The anterior belly originates from the digastric fossa on the mandible; the posterior belly originates from the mastoid notch on the temporal bone. It’s insertion is onto the hyoid bone via the central tendon.

When the hyoid bone is fixed, the digastric muscle assists in opening the mouth. When both bellies contract simultaneously, the muscle elevates the hyoid bone. The anterior belly is innervated by the mylohyoid branch of the trigeminal nerve as the posterior belly is innervated by the facial nerve. The split innervation is due to the differing embryological origins of the bellies of the muscle.

The mylohyoid muscle extends from the mylohyoid line on the inner mandible to the midline central tendon, called the midline raphe. The midline raphe continues to insert onto the hyoid bone. Mylohyoid elevates the hyoid bone, and is innervated  by the mylohyoid nerve, a branch of the mandibular nerve.

The geniohyoid muscle originates from the inferior mental spines on the inner surface of the mental symphysis. It also inserts onto the hyoid bone. It is innervated by the 1st cervical nerve and the hypoglossal nerve

The stylohyoid extends from the styloid process of the temporal bone to the hyoid bone. It is innervated by the facial nerve

Infrahyoid muscles

The infrahyoids are a group of 4 paired muscles located inferior to the hyoid bone in the anterior neck.

Key facts about the infrahyoid muscles
Sternohyoid

Origin: posterior border of manubrium of sternum, costal cartilage of rib 1

Insertion: oblique line of thyroid cartilage

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C1-C3 (via ansa cervicalis)

Function: Depresses larynx

Thyrohyoid

Origin: oblique line of thyroid cartilage

Insertion: inferior border of body and greater horn of hyoid bone

Innervation: anterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (via hypoglossal nerve)

Function: depresses hyoid bone, elevates larynx

Omohyoid

Origin: superior border of scapula (adjacent to suprascapular notch)

Insertion: inferior border of body of hyoid bone

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C1-C3 (via ansa cervicalis)

Function: depresses hyoid bone

The sternohyoid, thyrohyoid and omohyoid muscles depress the hyoid bone. This facilitates downward movement of the larynx after swallowing. They are supplied by the ansa cervicalis (C1-C3)

Recommended video: Infrahyoid muscles
Attachments, innervation and functions of the infrahyoid muscles.

The sternohyoid muscle is the most superficial of the infrahyoids, originating from the anterior surface of the sternoclavicular joint and manubrium and inserting onto the body of the hyoid bone.

The sternothyroid muscle lies deep to the sternohyoid. It originates from the posterior surface of the manubrium and inserts onto the oblique line of the thyroid cartilage.

The thyrohyoid muscle is the continuation of the sternothyroid cartilage superiorly. It originates from the oblique line of the thyroid cartilage, and inserts onto the body and greater horn of the hyoid bone.

The omohyoid muscleconsists of two bellies: a superior and an inferior. It originates from the superior border of the scapula, and passes superomedially to a central tendon overlying the carotid sheath. It continues superiorly to insert onto the body of the hyoid bone.                                   

Scalene muscles

The scalene muscles are a group of 3 paired muscles in the anterolateral neck. They extend from the cervical vertebrae to the first two ribs. The muscles elevate the ribs. Unilateral contraction produces lateral flexion of the neck, and bilateral contraction also produces anterior flexion of the neck.

Key facts about scalene muscles
Scalenus anterior

Origin: anterior tubercle of transverse processes of vertebrae C3-C6

Insertion: anterior scalene tubercle of rib 1, superior border of rib 1 (anterior to subclavian groove)

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C4-C6

Function:

- bilateral contraction - neck flexion

- unilateral contraction - neck lateral flexion (ipsilateral), neck rotation (contralateral), elevates rib 1

Scalenus medius

Origin: posterior tubercles of transverse processes of vertebrae C3-C7

Insertion: superior border of rib 1 (posterior to subclavian groove)

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C3-C8

Function: neck lateral flexion, elevates rib 1

Scalenus posterior

Origin: posterior tubercles of transverse processes of vertebrae C5-C7

Insertion: external surface of rib 2

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C6-C8

Function: neck lateral flexion, elevates rib 2

The scalenus anterior originates from the transverse processes of the C3-C6 cervical vertebrae and inserts onto the upper aspect of the 1st rib.

The scalenus nedius extends from the transverse processes of the C3-C7 to the first rib, inserting posterior to scalenus anterior.

The scalenus posterior originates from the transverse processes of the C5-C7 and inserts onto the second rib.

Lateral neck (prevertebral) muscles

The prevertebral muscles are a group of paired deep muscles in the neck, enclosed by the prevertebral layer of deep cervical fascia. 

Key facts about lateral neck muscles
Longus capitis

Origin: anterior tubercles of transverse processes of C3-C6

Insertion: basilar part of occipital bone

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C1-C3

Function:

- bilateral contraction - head flexion

- ipsilateral contraction - head rotation (ipsilateral)

Longus colli

Origin:

- superior part: anterior tubercles of transverse processes of vertebrae C3- C5

- intermediate part: anterior surface of bodies of vertebrae C5-T3;

- inferior part: Anterior surface of bodies of vertebrae T1-T3

Insertion:

- superior part: anterior tubercle of vertebra C1

- intermediate part: anterior surface of bodies of vertebrae C2- C4

- inferior part: anterior tubercles of transverse processes of vertebrae C5-C6

Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves C2-C6

Function:

- bilateral contraction - neck flexion, neck lateral flexion (ipsilateral)

- unilateral contraction - neck contralateral rotation

Rectus capitis anterior

Origin: anterior surface of lateral mass and tranverse process of atlas 

Insertion: inferior surface of basilar part of occipital bone 

Innervation: anterior rami of C1-C2 spinal nerves

Function: atlanto-occipital joint: head flexion

Rectus capitis lateralis

Origin: superior surface of transverse process of atlas

Insertion: inferior surface of jugular process of occipital bone

Innervation: anterior rami of C1-C2 spinal nerves

Function: atlanto-occipital joint: head lateral flexion (ipsilateral)

These muscles are active in flexion and lateral flexion of the neck in the cervical region, and flexion at the atlanto-occipital joint. They play an important role in the stabilization of the cervical vertebral column, counteracting the cervical extensors.

The longus capitis muscle originates from the anterior tubercles of the transverse processes of C3-C6. It inserts onto the inferior surface of the basilar region of the occipital bone. It is innervated by the anterior rami of C1-C4 spinal nerves.

The longus colli muscle, also known as longus cervicis originates from the C5-T3 vertebrae. It inserts onto C2-C4, the anterior tubercles of C5-C6, and the tubercle of the anterior arch of the atlas. It is innervated by the anterior rami of C2-C8.

Finally, let's look at the rectus capitis anterior and lateralis. Rectus capitis anterior originates from the lateral mass of the atlas and inserts anterior to the foramen magnum on the base of the occipital bone. Rectus capitis lateralis extends from the transverse process of the atlas to the internal aspect of the jugular process on the occipital bone. Both muscles are innervated by the anterior rami of C1-C2 spinal nerves.

Posterior neck muscles

Superficial muscles

Splenius capitis and splenius cervicis are a pair of superficial muscles in the back of the neck. Bilateral contraction of these muscles produces extension of the neck. Unilateral contraction produces lateral flexion and rotation to the same side. They are innervated by the dorsal rami of the middle and lower cervical nerves.

The splenius capitis originates from the spinous processes of C5-T3 via the nuchal ligament. It inserts onto the mastoid process of the temporal bone.

On the other hand, the splenius cervicis extends from the spinous processes of T3-T6 to the transverse processes of C1-C3.

Suboccipital muscles

The suboccipital muscles are a compartment of 4 small paired muscles inferior to the external nuchal protuberance and the inferior nuchal line.

Key facts about the suboccipital muscles
Rectus capitis posterior major

Origin: spinous process of axis
Insertion: lateral part of inferior nuchal line
Innervation: posterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (suboccipital nerve)
Function:

- bilateral contraction - atlantooccipital joint: head extension

- unilateral contraction - atlantoaxial joint: head rotation (ipsilateral)

Rectus capitis posterior minor

Origin: posterior tubercle of atlas
Insertion: medial part of inferior nuchal line
Innervation: posterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (suboccipital nerve)
Function:

- bilateral contraction - atlantooccipital joint: head extension

- unilateral contraction - atlantoaxial joint: head rotation (ipsilateral)

Obliquus capitis inferior

Origin: spinous process of axis
Insertion: transverse process of atlas
Innervation: posterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (suboccipital nerve)
Function:

- bilateral contraction - atlantooccipital joint: head extension

- unilateral contraction - atlantoaxial joint: head rotation (ipsilateral)

Obliquus capitis superior

Origin: transverse process of atlas
Insertion: occipital bone (between superior and inferior nuchal lines)
Innervation: posterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (suboccipital nerve)
Function:

- bilateral contraction - atlantooccipital joint: head extension
- unilateral contraction - atlantoaxial joint: head rotation (contralateral)

They are mainly postural muscles of the cervical region, but are involved in movements of the head including extension, lateral flexion, and rotation at the atlantoaxial joint. They are all innervated by the suboccipital nerve.

Recommended video: Suboccipital muscles
Origins, insertions, innervation and functions of the suboccipital muscles.

The rectus capitis posterior major originates from the spinous process of the axis. It inserts onto the lateral aspect of the inferior nuchal line. It produces extension and ipsilateral rotation.

The rectus capitis posterior minor originates from the tubercle on the posterior arch of the atlas and inserts onto the median aspect of the inferior nuchal line. It produces extension and ipsilateral rotation.

The obliquus capitis inferior originates from the spine of the axis and inserts onto the transverse process of the atlas. It produces rotation to the ipsilateral side.

Finally the, obliquus capitis superior extends from the transverse process of the atlas to the superior and inferior nuchal lines of the occipital bone. It produces extension and lateral flexion.

Transversospinalis muscles

The transversospinalis muscles are a group of muscles extending across all levels of the vertebral column.

Key facts about transversospinalis muscles
Semispinalis capitis

Origin: articular processes of vertebrae C4-C7, transverse processes of vertebrae T1-T6
Insertion: between superior and inferior nuchal lines of occipital bone

Innervation: descending branches of greater occipital nerve (C2) and spinal nerve C3
Function

- bilateral contraction - extension of head, cervical and thoracic spine
- unilateral contraction - lateral flexion of head, cervical and thoracic spine (ipsilateral), rotation of head, cervical and thoracic spine (contralateral)

Semispinalis cervicis

Origin: transverse processes of vertebrae T1-T6
Insertion: spinous processes of vertebrae C2-C5

Innervation: medial branches of posterior rami of spinal nerves
Function:

- bilateral contraction - extension of head, cervical and thoracic spine
- unilateral contraction - lateral flexion of head, cervical and thoracic spine (ipsilateral), rotation of head, cervical and thoracic spine (contralateral)

Rotatores cervicis

Origin: articular processes of cervical vertebrae
Insertion: spinous processes of cervical vertebrae

Innervation: dorsal rami of the spinal nerves

Function:

- bilateral contraction - extension of the spine (semispinalis capitis also extends the head)
- unilateral contraction - lateral flexion of the spine (semispinalis capitis also lateral flexes the head)

Interspinales cervicis

Origin: superior aspect of spinous processes of vertebrae C2-C7

Insertion: inferior aspect of spinous processes of vertebrae C1-C6

Innervation: posterior rami of spinal nerves
Function: extension of cervical and lumbar spine

Intertransversarii

Origin: Transverse processes of cervical and lumbar vertebrae

Insertion: transverse processes of adjacent vertebrae
Innervation: posterior and anterior rami of spinal nerves
Function: assists in lateral flexion of the spine; stabilises spine

These muscles are divided into subgroups depending on the region in which they are active. For example, the rotatores (spinae) muscles are divided into rotatores cervicis, thoracis and lumborum groups. The transversospinalis muscles are involved in rotation and extension of vertebral column. They are innervated throughout their course by the dorsal rami of the spinal nerves.

The semispinalis Capitis originates from the transverse processes of the upper thoracic and lower cervical vertebrae and inserts between the superior and inferior nuchal line on the occipital bone.

The semispinalis Cervicis originates from the transverse processes of the upper thoracic vertebrae and inserts onto the spinous processes of C1-C5.

The rotatores Cervicis originates from the transverse processes of the cervical vertebrae and inserts onto the laminae and transverse processes of the vertebrae 1-2 levels above.      

The interspinales in the cervical region extends from the spinous process of the cervical vertebrae to the spinous process of the adjacent vertebra.

Last but not least, the intertransversarii muscles in the cervical region extend between the transverse processes of adjacent cervical vertebrae. 

Clinical significance

Torticollis

Torticollis is a condition resulting in asymmetrical positioning of the neck. The name is derived from the latin words tortus, meaning ‘twisted’ and collis, which means ‘neck’. It is caused by damage to and effectively, shortening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle in the lateral neck. In relation to the affected sternocleidomastoid muscle, torticollis presents as an ipsilateral (same side) head tilt, and contralateral (opposite side) rotation of the face and chin. Presenting at childbirth, congenital muscular torticollis (CMT) is the most common presentation of torticollis. Contracture of the sternocleidomastoid muscle as a result of a traumatic childbirth is regarded as one of the most frequent causes of CMT.

Accessory nerve test

The integrity of the accessory nerve can be examined by testing the function of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. This is done by rotating the head against resistance. The clinician will place their hand on the side of the head and ask the patient to turn the head towards the side where the hand is place. The ability to produce this movement indicates that the accessory nerve is intact and functional as far as the level at which the motor supply to sternocleidomastoid branches.

Muscles of the neck: An overview: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,206,283 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

Reference list:

  • B. Missaghi: Sternocleidomastoid syndrome: a case study, The Journal of Canadian Chiropractic Association. (2004), Volume 48, Issue 3, p.  201-205
  • F. Netter: Atlas of Human Anatomy, 6th Edition, Elsevier Saunders (2014).
  • J.A. Gosling, P.F. Harris, J.R. Humpherson et al.: Human Anatomy, Colour Atlas and Textbook, 5th Edition, Mosby Elsevier (2008).
  • K. Nilesh, S. Mukherji: Congenital muscular torticollis, Annals of Maxofacial Surgery. (2013), Volume 3, Issue 2, p. 198-200
  • R. Drake, A.W. Vogl, A.W.M. Mitchell: Gray’s Anatomy for Students, 3rd Edition, Churchil Livingston Elsevier (2015).

Author, review, layout:

  • Niamh Gorman
  • Francesca Salvador
  • Adrian Rad

Illustrators:

  • Neck (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Platysma (ventral view)- Yousun Koh
  • Sternocleidomastoid muscle (lateral-right view) - Paul Kim
  • Subclavius muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Digastric muscle (lateral-right view) - Paul Kim
  • Mylohyoid muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Geniohyoid muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Stylohyoid muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Sternohyoid muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Sternothyroid muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Thyrohyoid muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Omohyoid muscle (lateral-right view) - Paul Kim
  • Anterior scalene muscle (lateral-right view) - Paul Kim
  • Middle scalene muscle (lateral-right view) - Paul Kim
  • Posterior scalene muscle (lateral-right view) - Paul Kim
  • Longus capitis muscle (ventral view) - Yousun Koh
  • Longus colli muscle - ventral view - Yousun Koh
  • Splenius capitis muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Splenius cervicis muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Rectus capitis posterior major muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Rectus capitis posterior minor muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Obliquus capitis inferior muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Obliquus capitis superior muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Semispinalis capitis muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Semispinalis cervicis muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Cervical interspinal muscle - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Cervical intertransverse muscles - dorsal view - Yousun Koh
  • Neck muscles, nerves and vessels (cadaveric dissection) - Prof. Carlos Suárez-Quian
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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