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The Prevertebral Muscles of the Neck

Many muscles are located in the deep structures of the neck. The seven cervical vertebrae form the bony framework of the neck. The cervical vertebrae have a lot of joints that allow for movement in several directions, so lots of corresponding muscles help move the neck. The muscles that flex the neck are located anterior and lateral to the cervical vertebrae. The muscles that extend and rotate the neck are located posterior to the vertebrae and work like the intrinsic muscles of the back.

Prevertebral muscles run in front of the cervical vertebrae, and they contract generally to flex the neck and bow the head.

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  • Longus capitis: This muscle originates on the occipital bone at the base of the skull and inserts onto the transverse processes (slender lateral projections) of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th cervical vertebrae.

  • Longus colli: This muscle originates on the anterior bodies of the top three cervical vertebrae and the transverse processes of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th cervical vertebrae. It inserts onto the bodies of the 5th, 6th, and 7th cervical vertebrae and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd thoracic vertebrae and the transverse processes of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th cervical vertebrae.

  • Rectus capitis anterior: This muscle originates on the base of the cranium and inserts onto the anterior surface of the 1st cervical vertebra.

  • Anterior scalene: This muscle originates on the transverse processes of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th cervical vertebrae and inserts onto the 1st rib.

The lateral prevertebral muscles run more along the sides of the neck. They generally work to laterally flex the neck (tilt your head to one side):

  • Splenius capitis: This muscle originates on the spinous processes (bumps you can feel on the midline of the back) of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th thoracic vertebrae and on the nuchal ligament. It inserts onto the mastoid process of the temporal bone.

  • Rectus capitis lateralis: Originating on the occipital bone, this muscle inserts onto the transverse processes of the 1st cervical vertebra.

  • Middle scalene: This muscle originates on the transverse processes of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th cervical vertebrae and inserts onto the 1st rib.

  • Posterior scalene: This muscle originates on the transverse processes of the 4th, 5th, and 6th cervical vertebrae and inserts onto the 2nd rib.

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