Head and neck muscles

Posterior view of the occipital region of the skull, cervical and thoracic regions of the spinal column, upper arm, scapulae and the most superficial layer of the attached muscles (right) and some deep muscles (left).

The muscles of the neck provide the movements of the head. They are into several groups based on their location and functions.

The anterior neck muscles are primarily responsible for the flexion of the neck. They also participate in neck rotation, as well as some movements of the cervical viscera, e.g. larynx, hyoid bone. They are divided into the following subgroups:

  • Superficial (beneath the skin): Platysma and sternocleidomastoid.
  • Suprahyoid (above the hyoid bone): Digastric, mylohyoid, geniohyoid and stylohyoid.
  • Infrahyoid (below the hyoid bone): Sternohyoid, omohyoid, sternothyroid and thyrohyoid
  • Prevertebral (anterior to the cervical spine): Rectus capitis anterior, rectus capitis lateralis, longus capitis and longus colli
  • Pharyngeal muscles: Superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictors, stylopharyngeus and salpingopharyngeus
  • Laryngeal muscles: Cricothyroid, posterior cricoarytenoid muscle, lateral cricoarytenoid, thyroarytenoid, oblique arytenoid and transverse arytenoid

The lateral or vertebral group consists of the anterior, middle and posterior scalene muscles. Their main function is unilateral flexion of the neck.

The posterior aspect of the neck is covered by the muscles of the back. They are not true cervical muscles, but they do assist the movements of the neck, primarily extension. These muscles are divided into:

  • Superficial: Trapezius, splenius capitis and splenius cervicis
  • Deep: cervical transversospinalis muscles (semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis, multifidus cervicis)
  • Deepest: suboccipital muscles, interspinales cervicis and intertransversarii colli 

The muscles of the head are composed of all the muscles located on the face and scalp. The head muscles are numerous and organized into seven groups based on their functions:

  1. Extraocular muscles, which move the eyeballs in different directions
  2. Superficial muscles of head, further divided into the epicranial, extrinsic auricular and facial muscles (muscles of facial expression).
  3. Intrinsic auricular muscles, associated with the auricle of the ear
  4. Muscles of auditory ossicles, providing movements of the auditory ossicles in the middle ear
  5. Masticatory muscles, facilitating mastication and speech
  6. Muscles of tongue, enabling the movements of the tongue
  7. Muscles of soft palate, enabling the movements of the soft palate to facilitate swallowing and speech

Learn the anatomy of the head and neck muscles with the interactive tutorials below, or take a deep dive into quizzes and video tutorials.