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Neck 101: Your Guide to Neck and Neck Muscle Anatomy

October 22, 2021

Neck 101: Your Guide to Neck and Neck Muscle Anatomy

Did you know that the average head weighs 5 kg? That’s around 11 pounds, making it heavier than most newborn babies!

Imagine the neck supporting all that weight while keeping your head mobile. What makes this body part all the more impressive is that it also houses crucial structures like the:

  • Esophagus
  • Trachea
  • Larynx
  • Pharynx
  • Lymph nodes
  • Other blood vessels

Want to learn more about the cervical spine? This neck and neck muscle anatomy guide will fill you in on what you need to know.

(Featured image vector from www.injurymap.com)

What Are the Different Parts of the Neck?

The anatomy of the neck has two main structures: triangles and compartments.

The triangles are located in the outer division, while compartments make up the inner division. Each triangle has its own nerves, vessels, and muscles, and the compartments contain cervical fascia (connective tissues) in varying layers.

Let’s take a closer look at each part:

Triangles

There are two main triangles in the neck: anterior (front) and the posterior (back) triangles. When combined, they form a quadrangular shape.

Anterior Triangle

The anterior triangle of the neck is bounded:

  • Superiorly - the mandible or jawbone’s inferior border
  • Laterally - the sternocleidomastoid’s anterior border
  • Medially - sagittal line at the midline of the neck
borders of the anterior triangle
Photo from Teach Me Anatomy
It has 4 smaller triangles or subdivisions:
anterior triangle subdivisions
Photo from Earth's Lab
Muscular triangle

With 4 boundaries, calling this a triangle is pretty questionable. It is where the infrahyoid muscles, viscera, and vessels are located. This triangle is in charge of supporting the larynx, hyoid bone, and thyroid cartilage.

Carotid triangle

As its name suggests, this triangle contains the common carotid artery. Its other contents include the hypoglossal nerve and the internal jugular vein, which connects your brain and head to the heart.

The carotid triangle also contains the vagus nerve. It is the longest cranial nerve and it’s responsible for both somatic and visceral components. Think of it as the opposite of the fight and flight response.

When the nerve is activated, it fights stress and reduces inflammation. Exposing your body to the cold is one way to trigger it.

There are other methods of stimulating the vagus nerve, which the video below explores. Try them out if you want your body to feel more calm and relaxed.


Submental triangle

This is located below your chin and it’s where you’ll find the submental lymph nodes, which filter out toxins in the body. 

Submandibular triangle

Also known as the digastric triangle, this section houses the salivary gland. Without it, you won’t be able to swallow your food and you’ll have trouble chewing.

Posterior Triangle

Now, for the posterior triangle. This triangle makes up the lateral part of your neck and is bounded:
  • Anteriorly - the sternocleidomastoid’s back border
  • Posteriorly - trapezius muscle's front border
  • Inferiorly - the middle of your clavicle or collarbone

    borders of the posterior triangle

    Photo from Teach Me Anatomy

    The structures in the posterior triangle include several muscles, nerves, and veins.

    One neck muscle you should be familiar with is the omohyoid. Why is it significant? Well, it’s responsible for breaking up the posterior triangle into two — you guessed it — triangles.
     
    The occipital triangle is the bigger and superior part. Nerves like the accessory nerve (CN XI) as well as branches of the brachial plexus and cervical plexus are in this triangle. Thanks to these nerves, you can shake your head, shrug, and move your hands and arms.

    The smaller triangle has different names. It's known as the subclavian triangle but it's also called the supraclavicular or omoclavicular triangle. Like the occipital triangle, it has branches of the brachial plexus. But its other structures include lymph nodes, the subclavian artery, and the subclavian nerve.

    Check out the next section to learn about other important muscles of the neck.

    Muscles

     muscles of the neck

    Photo from Lumen Learning

    Neck muscles play a role in moving your head, neck, shoulders, and upper back. Unlike muscles in your heart and stomach, they only work when you decide to use them. This makes them voluntary muscles.

    Now, your neck has over 20 muscles. They’re classified into 3 groups based on their location (anterior, posterior, or lateral).

    The anterior neck muscles include:

    anterior neck muscles

    Photo from Encyclopedia Britannica

    • Scalene muscles: Scalenes are responsible for making your ribs go up and down, which helps you take in air when you breathe. They also hold your cervical vertebrae in place. 
    • Suprahyoids: These are the digastric, stylohyoid, mylohyoid, and geniohyoid muscles and are found above your neck’s hyoid bone. Each muscle works to move the bone when you talk and eat. 
    • Infrahyoids: These muscles are divided into two groups. The omohyoid and sternohyoid muscles make up the superficial plane while the deep plane is composed of the sternothyroid and thyrohyoid muscles.  
    • Subclavius: This keeps your collarbone steady whenever you use your arms and shoulders.
    • Platysma: The platysma is a thin sheet of muscle that is necessary for moving your mouth and jaw. It reaches from your jaw down to your shoulder and upper chest.
    • Sternocleidomastoid: This is a huge muscle — one of the biggest in your neck. It extends from your ear to your collarbone. The sternocleidomastoid serves different functions like stretching your neck and moving your jaw.

    Meanwhile, the posterior neck muscles include:

     posterior neck muscles

    Photo from NCBI

    • Suboccipital muscles: Found below the occipital bone, there are four of these muscles in total: the rectus capitis posterior major, rectus capitis posterior minor, obliquus capitis superior, and obliquus capitis inferior. Together, they make it possible for your head to extend.
    • Transversospinalis muscles: These are 5 muscles that also help with head movement and keeping your spine stable.
    • Splenius capitus and splenius cervicis: Think of these muscles as straps behind your neck. Along with the other neck muscles, they help move your head.

    Lastly, here are the lateral muscles of the neck:

    lateral neck muscles

    • Longus capitis and longus colli: A pair of muscles that twist and move your spine and head.
    • Rectus capitis anterior and rectus capitis lateralis: A pair of muscles that operate head movement from under your skull.

    Compartments

     compartments of the neck

     Photo from Basic Medical Key

    Connective tissues called fasciae surround your neck and separate them into compartments.

    While there are several fasciae in the body supporting your nerves, vessels, and muscles, the neck has two specific kinds: superficial cervical fascia and deep cervical fascia.

    The superficial cervical fascia stays right under your skin. It’s thinner than fasciae in other places, and it contains structures like platysma, cutaneous nerves, and superficial lymph nodes and veins.   

    Below this fascia, you’ll find the deep cervical fascia. It’s actually the one responsible for compartmentalizing the neck’s structures. The fascial layers that make up the deep fascia all support its structures and vessels. These include the investing, pretracheal, and prevertebral layers.

    Since you’re now familiar with the types of fasciae, let’s discuss the compartments of your neck. There are four of them in total:

    • Vertebral compartment: This compartment is composed of cervical vertebrae, cervical nerves, the spinal cord, and muscles that are responsible for posture.
    • Visceral compartment: This compartment has parts of the digestive and respiratory systems (ex. larynx, pharynx, and trachea) as well as endocrine glands like the thymus, thyroid, and parathyroid.
    • 2 vascular compartments: Your neck has one of these on each side. These compartments house the vagus nerve, internal jugular vein, and the common carotid artery.    

    Why Should You Be Familiar with Neck and Neck Muscle Anatomy?

    The reason is simple — your neck is one of the most hardworking parts of your body. It literally carries your head, protects your spinal cord, and helps your brain get enough blood flow.

    Everyday activities like driving in traffic, reading books, and texting can cause repeated stress to your neck. Over time, this may impact your way of life.

    By knowing its anatomy, you can take better care of your neck. That’s because you have an idea of where the pain is coming from.

    How Can You Keep Your Neck Healthy?

    Make your workplace comfortable

    Sitting for long periods of time can lead to a stiff neck. But you can avoid it by keeping your back straight and your feet firmly planted on the ground. It also helps to take regular breaks from sitting. Stand up for a few minutes every hour and do stretches.

    Change how you use your phone

    When you’re always on your phone, you’re not only harming your eyesight; you’re also straining your neck muscles. To avoid text neck, you can either use your phone less or hold it level to your eyes.

    Use a hot or cold pack

    Does your nape feel sore whenever you have a stressful workday or an intense workout? Neck pain relief products from IceWraps can quickly soothe it. We have an ice clay pack that’s specifically designed to target neck and shoulder pain.

     
    IceWraps Extra Large Neck Ice Pack With Soft Cover

    ICEWRAPS EXTRA LARGE NECK ICE PACK WITH SOFT COVER

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    Rethink your sleeping position

    Certain sleeping positions may hurt your neck more than others. If you lie on your stomach, that might be the reason for your stiff neck. It puts more pressure on your neck compared to when you sleep on your sides or back.

    Final Thoughts

    Your neck is the bridge between your head and the rest of your body. It’s in charge of tilting and moving your head, and it also helps your heart transport blood to your brain.

    You’re not exempt from neck pain, whether you’re an athlete or working a desk job. It’s a pretty common ailment. But with small lifestyle changes and cold therapy, you can ease it.

    If you need neck pain relief, IceWraps has exactly what you’re looking for! We’re your one-stop shop for everything hot and cold therapy. 


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