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Neck Anatomy - want to learn more about it?

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Neck Anatomy

Neck - anterior viewEvery adolescent has heard at least once “don’t forget your head somewhere!” from their parents. Well, luckily, we have necks that attach our heads to our trunks, so jokes on them for saying that.

Besides wearing necklaces and spraying perfume, the neck has other functions as well. For instance, it supports the position of the head and enables us to turn our head towards stimuli. So when you hear Bohemian rhapsody, you can turn your head towards that bar and maybe decide to go in and have some fun.

This page will discuss the anatomy of the neck.

Neck spaces

The content of the neck is grouped into 4 neck spaces, called the compartments.

  • Vertebral compartment: contains cervical vertebrae and postural muscles.
  • Visceral compartment: contains glands (thyroid, parathyroid, and thymus), the larynx, pharynx and trachea.
  • Two vascular compartments: contain the common carotid artery, internal jugular vein and the vagus nerve, on each side of the neck.

Protection of the parts of the neck and its mobility are ensured by the vertebrae and muscles of the neck. If you want to find out more about the neck compartments and their content, we got you covered with these quizzes and articles!

Compartments of the neck
Cervical Fascias
Carotid Sheath
Para- and Retropharyngeal Spaces

Triangles of the neck

You may be shocked that we’re mentioning triangles here, as you probably didn’t enroll in anatomy because you love maths. But don’t worry, these triangles are not hard to remember and they are very important for understanding neck anatomy. The triangles are actually spaces bordered by the neck muscles. There are two main triangles; the anterior, and the posterior, triangles of the neck.

The anterior triangle of the neck is made by the anterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the inferior border of the mandible and the midline of the neck. This triangle can be further divided into the submandibular triangle, submental triangle, muscular triangle and carotid triangle.

Similarly, the posterior triangle is bounded by the posterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the anterior border of the trapezius muscle and the middle third of the clavicle. It can be subdivided into the occipital triangle and the omoclavicular triangle.

Triangles of the neck
Anterior triangle Superiorly - inferior border of mandible
Medially - midline of neck
Laterally - anterior border of sternocleidomastoid muscle
Content: pharynx, larynx, glands, common carotid, internal carotid and external carotid arteries, internal jugular vein, facial, glossopharyngeal, vagus, hypoglossal nerves
Submandibular triangle Superiorly - inferior border of mandible
Laterally - anterior belly of digastric muscle
Medially - posterior belly of digastric muscle
Submental triangle Inferiorly - hyoid bone
Laterally - anterior belly of digastric muscle
Medially - midline of neck
Muscular (Omotracheal) triangle Superiorly - hyoid bone
Laterally - superior belly of omohyoid and anterior border of sternocleidomastoid
Medially - midline of neck
Carotid triangle Anteroinferiorly - superior belly of omohyoid muscle
Superiorly - stylohyoid and posterior belly of digastric muscles
Posteriorly - anterior border of sternocleidomastoid muscle
Posterior triangle Anteriorly - posterior edge of sternocleidomastoid muscle
Posteriorly - anterior edge of trapezius muscle
Inferiorly - middle one-third of clavicle
Content: external jugular vein, subclavian artery, accessory nerve, cervical plexus, trunks of the brachial plexus
Occipital triangle Anteriorly - posterior edge of sternocleidomastoid muscle
Posteriorly - anterior edge of trapezius muscle
Inferiorly - superior belly of omohyoid muscle
Omoclavicular (subclavian/ supraclavicular) triangle Superiorly - inferior belly of omohyoid muscle
Anteriorly -  posterior edge of sternocleidomastoid muscle
Posteriorly - anterior edge of trapezius muscle

Check out this video tutorial and quizz to master the triangles of the neck!

Triangles of the neck
Triangles of the neck

Neck muscles

The muscles of the neck are a hot topic within anatomy circles. They are usually described within the triangles; so there are the muscles of the anterior triangle, and the muscles of the posterior triangle. Furthermore, the anterior triangle muscles are grouped depending on their position to the hyoid bone; as the suprahyoid and infrahyoid muscles.

Anterior triangle muscles
Suprahyoid muscles Muscles: stylohyoid, digastric, mylohyoid, geniohyoid
Location: superiorly to the hyoid bone
Function: raise the hyoid bone during swallowing
Infrahyoid muscles Muscles: omohyoid, sternohyoid, thyrohyoid, sternothyroid
Location: inferiorly to the hyoid bone
Function: depress the hyoid bone

The posterior triangle is continuous with the upper limb. It contains the following muscles: sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, splenius capitis, levator scapulae, omohyoid, as well as the anterior, middle and posterior scalene muscles.

To quickly catch up with all the information we have provided you here, go through this article where you’ll find more useful information and an interesting neck muscles diagram.

Muscles of the Neck: An Overview

Larynx anatomy

As we know, the respiratory system is divided into upper and lower parts. Well, the larynx is the beginning of the lower airway. Below, it continues as the trachea, while above it is continuous with the pharynx.

The main larynx function is to conduct air to the trachea; it also acts to prevent food from entering the trachea too. This is possible because the larynx has a flap on its upper part called the epiglottis that is closed during swallowing and open during breathing. The larynx also holds the structures of the ‘voice box’. To learn everything about the larynx go through these articles, video tutorials and quizzes:

Muscles of the Larynx
Joints of the Larynx
Cartilages of the Larynx
Larynx

Once you’re familiar with the anatomy of the larynx, you can check out this interesting clinical case:

Clinical case: Button Battery Ingestion

Thyroid gland anatomy

The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped endocrine gland placed anteriorly to the thyroid cartilage of the larynx. Basic thyroid anatomy describes the gland as having two lobes; left and right (like the wings of the butterfly). The lobes are connected by an isthmus (the body of the butterfly).

The main function of the thyroid gland is the production of two hormones that take part in the many metabolic processes of the body. These hormones are called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Check out this article, and then quiz yourself, to learn everything about the thyroid glands structure and function!

Histology of the Thyroid Gland
Thyroid and parathyroid glands
Thyroid gland
Disorders of the Thyroid Gland

Hyoid bone

Have you heard about the one bone in the body that isn’t attached to any other bones, well this is it - the hyoid bone. You can easily find and palpate the hyoid just superior to the thyroid cartilage. The body of the hyoid bone projects anteriorly (like the base of the letter U), whereas the greater horns project posteriorly from the body (the two arms of the U). 

The bone is superiorly attached to the floor of the oral cavity, inferior to the larynx and posterior to the pharynx. So, to talk about the hyoid bone function, its primary function is to support and be an anchor point for the many muscles and soft tissues of the neck.

Go through the following article and then quiz yourself to learn more about the hyoid bone in a fun and engaging way!

Hyoid Bone
The hyoid bone

Video tutorials for the neck anatomy

Cervical spine
Vertebral column
Triangles of the neck
Thyroid cartilage
Cricoid cartilage
Larynx
Trachea
Muscles of the pharynx
Pharyngeal mucosa
Nerves of the parapharyngeal space
Blood vessels of the parapharyngeal space
Esophagus
Main muscles of the head and neck
Muscles of the anterior neck
Scalene muscles
Overview of the Scalene Muscles
Sternocleidomastoid muscle
Trapezius muscle
Suprahyoid muscles
Infrahyoid muscles
Stylohyoid muscle
Digastric muscle
Mylohyoid muscle
Geniohyoid muscle
Omohyoid muscle
Sternohyoid muscle
Thyrohyoid muscle
Sternothyroid muscle
Platysma
Arteries of the head and neck
Main veins of the head and neck
Main nerves of the head and neck
Neurovasculature and lymph nodes of the neck
Cervical plexus
Brachial plexus
Facial nerve
Glossopharyngeal nerve
Vagus nerve
Accessory nerve
Hypoglossal nerve
Regions of the head and neck
Surface anatomy of the head and neck
Respiratory system
Organs of the respiratory system
Overview of the oral cavity
Organs of the digestive system

Neck anatomy quizzes

Cervical spine
Triangles of the neck
Compartments of the neck
The hyoid bone
Thyroid and parathyroid glands
Larynx
Trachea and bronchi
Muscles of the pharynx
Pharyngeal mucosa
Blood vessels of the pharynx
Nerves of the pharynx
Main muscles of the head and neck
Muscles of the anterior neck
Main arteries of the head and neck
Main veins of the head and neck
Main nerves of the head and neck
Neurovasculature and lymph nodes of the neck
Cervical plexus
Brachial plexus
Facial nerve
Glossopharyngeal nerve
Vagus nerve
Accessory nerve
Hypoglossal nerve
Respiratory system
Digestive system
Endocrine system
Overview of the oral cavity

Neck Anatomy - 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 1,005,366 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

Article, review and layout:

  • Jana Vaskovic
  • Nicola McLaren
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