Neck muscles (overview)

The neck is a body part that connects the head with the rest of the body. It contains various organs and is built of different tissue, including many skeletal muscles that provide movements of the head. These muscles are called the neck muscles.

The main function of these muscles is to permit movements of the neck and head. Also, they provide structural support for the head. 

The muscles of the neck can be classified in two ways. The first classification is based on the location, including the depth of the muscles. In contrast, the second way is to group these muscles according to their position in the neck. Muscles in one group share similar functions.

The classification that is based on the location of the neck muscles is more precise and explains a bit more than just the words "anterior" or "posterior." Our article will review the neck muscles according to this classification.


Classification of neck muscles according to their location

According to their location, the muscles of the neck are classified as follows:

  • Superficial neck muscles - as the name suggests, they are the most externally located neck muscles; they are found in the anterior aspect of the neck; 
  • Suprahyoid muscles - four paired muscles that are located in the anterior compartment of the neck above the hyoid bone; they share a common function - they all elevate this bone; 
  • Infrahyoid muscles - four paired muscles that are also situated in the anterior neck compartment but below the hyoid bone; they all participate in depressing the hyoid;  
  • Prevertebral muscles (anterior vertebral muscles) - these muscles are situated anterior and deep to the spine; they are surrounded by the prevertebral layer of the deep cervical fascia, which is why they are named the prevertebral muscles; the last two muscles (rectus capitis anterior and rectus capitis lateral) sometimes are referred to as anterior suboccipital muscles; 
  • Scalene muscles (lateral vertebral muscles) - three paired muscles located in the lateral compartment of the neck, therefore they are also called the lateral vertebral muscles of the neck; 
  • Suboccipital muscles - four paired muscles situated deep in the upper posterior aspect of the neck; most of them are attached to the occipital bone

Several back muscles also shape the neck by extending from the back to the neck. These muscles are partly connected to the cervical part of the spine, and they include the trapezius, levator scapulae, splenius capitis, splenius cervicis, iliocostalis cervicis, longissimus capitis, longissimus cervicis, spinalis capitis, spinalis cervicis, multifidus cervicis, semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis, interspinales cervicis and intertransversarii cervicis muscles.

Note: You can review back muscles in our articles on the superficial and deep back muscles that you can find in the 3D Spine and back category


Classification of neck muscles according to their position

Alternatively, all neck muscles can be classified into three larger groups depending on their position in the neck:

  • Anterior muscles of the neck - these muscles are positioned in the anterior compartment of the neck; they include the superficial, suprahyoid, infrahyoid and prevertebral neck muscles;
  • Lateral muscles of the neck - as the name suggests, these muscles are located in the lateral compartment of the neck; they are the scalene muscles (lateral vertebral muscles);
  • Posterior muscles of the neck - situated in the posterior aspect of the neck; these include the suboccipital muscles and the superficial and deep muscles of the back.