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Superficial muscles of the back

Learning Objectives

This study unit will help you to:

  1. Identify the superficial muscles of the back.
  2. Locate the attachments of each muscle.
  3. Describe the innervation of each muscle.
  4. Discover the various functions of each superficial back muscle.

Watch videos

The superficial muscles are located beneath the skin and superficial fascia of the back and attach to the bones of the pectoral girdle and arm. They are often referred to as the extrinsic or immigrant muscles of the back since they represent muscles of the upper limb which have migrated during fetal development. For this reason, their principal function is to support and move the upper limb through movement of the scapula and humerus.

They are divided into two different parts consisting of a:

  • Superficial layer: trapezius, latissimus dorsi, levator scapulae, rhomboid major and minor muscles
  • Intermediate layer: serratus posterior superior and inferior muscles

Each muscle has its individual attachment points, innervation and function. All this might seem a lot to memorize. However, don't stress, the following video will give you a comprehensive overview of all you should know regarding the superficial muscles of the back. You’ve got this!

In this study unit we will also explore the suboccipital muscles: the rectus capitis posterior major and minor as well as the obliquus capitis superior and inferior muscles.

Take a quiz

Would you like to reinforce your knowledge of the superficial back muscles? Test yourself with the following quizzes.

If you want to broaden your knowledge on this topic, try out this customized quiz about the back.

Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the superficial muscles of the back in the gallery below.


Key points about the superficial muscles of the back
Superficial layer Trapezius muscle
Latissimus dorsi muscle
Levator scapulae muscle
Rhomboid major muscle
Rhomboid minor muscle
Intermediate layer Serratus posterior superior muscle
Serratus posterior inferior muscle
Suboccipital muscles Rectus capitis posterior major muscle
Rectus capitis posterior minor muscle
Obliquus capitis superior muscle
Obliquus capitis inferior muscle
Innervation Superficial layer: Anterior rami of spinal nerve C3-C8 (+ accessory nerve (CN XI) for trapezius)
Intermediate layer: 2nd-5th, 9th-11th intercostal nerves, subcostal nerve
Suboccipital muscles: Suboccipital nerve (C1)

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