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Obliquus capitis inferior muscle

Recommended video: Suboccipital muscles [06:48]
Origins, insertions, innervation and functions of the suboccipital muscles.
Obliquus capitis inferior muscle (Musculus obliquus capitis inferior)

Obliquus capitis inferior muscle is one of the four suboccipital muscles. Being grouped with rectus capitis posterior major, rectus capitis posterior minor and obliquus capitis superior muscles; obliquus capitis inferior is the largest muscle of the four.

The functions of obliquus capitis inferior are to facilitate the movements of the head and neck and maintain posture by supporting the atlantoaxial joint.

In this article, we will discuss the anatomy and function of the obliquus capitis inferior muscle.

Key facts about the obliquus capitis inferior muscle
Origin Spinous process of axis
Insertion Transverse process of atlas
Action Bilateral contraction - Atlantooccipital joint: Head extension
Unilateral contraction - Atlantoaxial joint: Head rotation (ipsilateral)
Innervation Posterior ramus of spinal nerve C1 (suboccipital nerve)
Blood supply Vertebral artery and deep descending branches of the occipital artery
  1. Origin and insertion
  2. Relations
  3. Innervation
  4. Blood supply
  5. Function
  6. Sources
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Origin and insertion

The obliquus capitis inferior muscle is the only muscle of the suboccipital group that does not insert onto the skull. Instead it spans the first and second cervical vertebra. Originating from the lateral surface of the spinous process of the axis (second cervical vertebra), obliquus capitis inferior passes in a superolateral direction to insert onto the posterior aspect of the transverse process of the atlas (first cervical vertebra).


Obliquus capitis inferior is located in the posterior region of the neck, lying deep to the semispinalis capitis muscle, splenius capitis muscle and the trapezius muscle. Together with rectus capitis posterior major and obliquus capitis superior muscles, it makes up a region in the neck called the suboccipital triangle.

Obliquus capitis inferior muscle forms the inferolateral border of this triangle. 


Just like all four muscles of the suboccipital group, obliquus capitis inferior is innervated by the posterior ramus of the spinal nerve C1, the suboccipital nerve

Blood supply

Blood supply comes from the vertebral artery and deep descending branches of the occipital artery (a branch of the external carotid artery), while it gets drained by the vertebral vein.


Bilateral contraction of obliquus capitis inferior causes head extension, at the atlantoaxial joint. While unilateral contraction produces rotation of the head towards the ipsilateral side.

Note that due to the oblique angle of its muscle fibers, this muscle is a strong rotator of the neck. Obliquus capitis inferior muscle also plays an important postural role; it works alongside the other suboccipital muscles to stabilize the atlantoaxial joint, and thus the position of the head, during other body movements (such as standing up from a sitting position). 

Expand your knowledge with our learning materials about the muscles of the back.

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