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Neck anatomy

Recommended video: Muscles of the anterior neck [20:57]
Overview of the muscles that define the anterior neck.

Every 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 joke's 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.

Key facts about neck anatomy
Compartments Vertebral (1), visceral (1), vascular compartments (2)
Triangles Anterior: submandibular, submental, muscular and carotid triangles
Posterior: Occipital and omoclavicular 
Muscles Suprahyoid: Stylohyoid, digastric, mylohyoid, geniohyoid muscles
Infrahyoid: Omohyoid, sternohyoid, thyrohyoid, sternothyroid muscles
Larynx 9 cartilages: Thyroid (1), epiglottic (1), cricoid (1), arytenoid (2), corniculate (2), cuneiform (2) cartilages
Thyroid gland Consists of left and right lobes connected by a central isthmus, produces thyroxine and triiodothyronine
Hyoid bone Consists of a central body with paired greater and lessor horns
  1. Neck spaces
  2. Triangles of the neck
  3. Neck muscles
  4. Larynx anatomy
  5. Thyroid gland anatomy
  6. Hyoid bone
  7. Sources
  8. Related articles
+ Show all

Neck spaces

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

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 the following study unit and custom quiz!

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 neck 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 these learning materials to master the 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.

Test yourself on the anterior neck muscles with this interactive quiz.

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’, which consists of nine cartilages: three unpaired (thyroid, epiglottic and cricoid cartilages) and three paired (arytenoid, corniculate and cuneiform cartilages), articulating via the joints of the larynx.

To learn everything about the larynx go through these learning materials:

Once you’re familiar with the anatomy of the larynx, you can check out this interesting clinical case of lithium 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 our study units to expand your knowledge and quiz yourself about the thyroid gland's structure and function!

Conclude the topic with our article about the 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). 

Think you know the bones of the body? Test yourself!

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 learning materials to learn more about the hyoid bone in a fun and engaging way! We also prepared a custom quiz on the neck anatomy. Check it out and learn more about bones, muscles, arteries, veins, and nerves of the neck.

Related articles

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