The cervical musculature is very important in neck pains. On the one hand, understanding how they are and how they work can learn to take better care of ourselves. On the other hand, participates in the painful processes of the neck as explained in the post dedicated to cervical contractures. Today I will focus on the particularities of the anatomy of the neck muscles and how it influences health.
In the neck we can differentiate three groups of muscles, so that we understand each other.
– Later muscles: These muscles are the ones that we can touch in the nape. It consists of small and large muscles that jump from vertebra into vertebrae and that have a great capacity to give stability to the cervical spine. Above them are larger muscles like the trapeze with a longer lever arm that reinforces the action of the deeper ones. This group of muscles is the ones that better stabilize the neck and protect from important injuries. Then we will see what implications it has.
– Side muscles: These are basically muscles that we call scalenes. The scalenes jump from the vertebrae to the ribs and by the disposition they have will be the ones who will force the most to carry the head forward in some positions. The nerve roots that come out of the neck pass between these muscles so we sometimes feel tingling by the arms when we have contracted.
– Anterior muscles: The muscles that are in the anterior part glued to the vertebrae are small and scarce. Most of the anterior muscles have large lever arms away from the neck. The one that has the most force is the sternocleidomastoid and jumps from the skull (behind the ears in an area of bone called the mastoid process) to the sternum and clavicle. The disposition of this muscle, as you see, causes them to move the neck indirectly, moving the head. The rest of the previous muscles are not designed to move the neck but participate in other processes like swallowing, for example.
This form in which the neck muscles are distributed has implications in our day-to-day postures. In many posts I talk about how damaging cervical extension can be, that is, carrying the head back. If we look at the ceiling or we are reclined in the chair without supporting the head, the anterior and lateral muscles struggle to maintain the position and that the head does not fall backwards. These muscles are not good neck stabilizers. They are weak and are not attached to the vertebrae.
The posterior muscles, on the other hand, are strong and are intimately attached to the vertebrae. This causes the cervical spine to become stable when contracted. Positions with the back neck in extension activate the anterior and lateral muscles that do not stabilize the spine correctly. In these positions the function of the hind muscles (the good ones) is nullified because the movement goes in the opposite direction.
There are positions where even the action of these anterior muscles can injure the neck by causing erratic movements in the cervical vertebrae. This happens especially when we are in a position of maximum extension and we carry the head forward or in postures turned in extension.
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If we remember the basic anatomy of the neck that I have told today, we can better understand the different posts in which I treat postural hygiene of the cervical spine.