Head and neck region

Last updated: November 23, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

This chapter gives an overview of the important structures, muscles, fasciae, and vessels (arteries, veins, lymph, nerves) of the head and neck region. The brain, one of the most important organs, is protected by the skull, both of which are covered in other articles. There are also individual articles for the organs of perception as well as for the thyroid gland, the salivary glands, teeth and oral cavity. The head and neck region is the beginning of the respiratory and digestive tract, both of which also have their own articles.

Regionstoggle arrow icon

Regions of the head

The head is divided into 14 regions:

  1. Frontal region
  2. Parietal region
  3. Occipital region
  4. Temporal region
  5. Auricular region
  6. Mastoid region
  7. Facial region
    1. Orbital region
    2. Infraorbital region
    3. Nasal region
    4. Zygomatic region
    5. Buccal region
    6. Parotid region
    7. Oral region
    8. Mental region

Regions of the neck

Anterior cervical triangle

Posterior cervical triangle

Suboccipital triangle


Musculaturetoggle arrow icon

Head muscles

Muscles of facial expression

  • Move the skin of the face, the alar wings of the nose, the eyelids, and lips
  • Enable us to express emotions
  • Not connected to bones but only to the skin
  • Do not have fasciae
  • All innervated by the facial nerve

Muscles of the cranium

Muscle Function
Occipitofrontalis muscle
  • Movement of the forehead and the brow
Temporoparietal muscle

Muscles of the ear

Muscle Function
Anterior auricular muscle
Superior auricular muscle
Posterior auricular muscle

Muscles of the eye

Muscle Function
Orbicularis oculi
Corrugator supercilii
  • Draw eyebrows together creating vertical fold (frown line)

Muscles of the nose

Muscle Function
  • Has two parts with opposing functions: tightening and widening of the nostrils
  • Draws the tip of the nose caudal
Depressor septi nasi
  • Pulls the nose inferiorly; opening the nostrils

Muscles of the mouth

Muscle Function
Orbicularis oris
  • Closes the mouth
  • Purses the lips
  • Pulls cheeks inwards against the teeth while chewing

Upper group

Levator labii superioris, levator labii superioris alaeque nasi muscle, risorius, levator anguli oris, zygomaticus major, zygomaticus minor
  • Lift upper lip and draw the corners of the mouth upwards (smiling)

Lower group

Depressor anguli oris, depressor labii inferioris, mentalis
  • Draw down the lower lip and the corners of the mouth
  • Mentalis: raises lower lip and chin of the skin (pouting muscle)

For mastication muscles and muscles of the tongue, see “Oral cavity.”

The facial nerve (VII) innervates all muscles of facial expression.

Hyoid bone and hyoid muscles

Muscle Function Innervation

Suprahyoid muscles

(Digastric, stylohyoid, mylohyoid, geniohyoid)

Infrahyoid muscles

(Sternohyoid, sternothyroid, thyrohyoid, omohyoid)

Neck muscles

The musculature of the neck can be differentiated into superficial and deep muscles.

Superficial muscles of the neck

Muscle Characteristics Function Innervation
  • Unilateral contraction
  • Bilateral contraction: flexes neck dorsally
  • Accessory respiratory muscle
  • Broad superficial muscle that runs subcutaneously from the upper chest area to the lower jawbone (mandible)
  • Reinforces the skin of the neck
  • Pulls lips to the sides and down
  • Opens jaw

An abnormal tone or length of the sternocleidomastoid muscle has a variety of mechanisms (e.g., trauma, muscle tone disorders, congenital muscle tightness, extrinsic masses, ocular, etc.) and is referred to as torticollis (wry neck).

Deep muscles of the neck

Group Origin Insertion Function Innervation
Scalene muscles

Anterior scalene

  • First or second rib
Middle scalene
Posterior scalene
Prevertebral muscles Longus colli muscle
  • Unilateral: ipsilateral flexion of the head

  • Bilateral: stabilization and rotation of the head

Longus capitis muscle
Rectus capitis anterior
Rectus capitis lateralis
Suboccipital muscles Obliquus capitis superior
  • Lateral part of the inferior nuchal line
  • Posterior branch of suboccipital nerve (C1)
Rectus capitis posterior minor
  • Medial part of the inferior nuchal line
Rectus capitis posterior major
Obliquus capitis inferior

An abnormal position or insertion of the anterior or middle scalene muscle may result in compression of the brachial plexus and the subclavian vessels, causing thoracic outlet syndrome.


Fasciastoggle arrow icon

Fascias of the head

Muscles of facial expression do not have a fascia as they are placed directly under the skin.

Fascias of the neck

Because the structures in the neck region are very close to each other, there are many fasciae that ensheath and separate (compartmentalize) the different structures.

Superficial cervical fascia

Deep cervical fascia

The prevertebral layer of the deep cervical fascia extends from the skull via the mediastinum to the diaphragm. Therefore, infections in this layer can cause great harm.

Vasculature and innervationtoggle arrow icon


Subclavian artery

  • Origin
    • Left subclavian artery: direct branch of the aorta
    • Right subclavian artery: a branch from the brachiocephalic artery
  • Branches
    • Internal thoracic artery
    • Vertebral artery
    • Thyrocervical trunk
    • Costocervical trunk

In stenosis of the coronary arteries, the internal thoracic artery can be used as a natural coronary artery bypass graft.

A stenosis of the subclavian artery proximal to the origin of the vertebral artery may result in subclavian steal syndrome.

Common carotid arteries

The common carotid arteries bifourcate at the level of C4.

An increased carotid sinus sensitivity can result in syncopes due to low systolic blood pressure when pressure is applied to the carotid sinus. It is frequently associated with arteriosclerotic changes in the carotid sinus.

Internal carotid artery

External carotid artery

The temporal artery is involved in giant cell arteritis.

A branch of the maxillary artery is the middle meningeal artery. It enters the skull through the foramen spinosum and mostly supplies the meninges and the skull. A craniocerebral injury can result in rupture or laceration of the middle meningeal artery, leading to the life-threatening condition of an epidural hematoma.


Superficial veins

External jugular vein

Deep veins

Internal jugular vein

Subclavian vein


Superficial cervical lymph nodes
Deep cervical lymph nodes Superior


Cervical plexus

Description: A nerve plexus composed of the anterior rami of the cervical nerve roots, which provides motor and sensory innervation to most neck muscles and the area over the anterior and lateral neck.

Nerve Spinal segment Innervation
Ansa cervicalis C1–C3
Phrenic nerve C3–C5
Lesser occipital nerve C2, C3
  • Sensory
    • Scalp
    • Ear
    • Neck
    • Upper thorax
Great auricular nerve C2, C3
Transverse cervical nerve C2, C3
Supraclavicular nerve C3, C4

Posterior branches of cervical nerves

Suboccipital nerve, Greater occipital nerve, Third occipital nerve


Phrenic nerve: C3, C4, C5 – keep the diaphragm alive!

A mediastinal tumor can present with shortness of breath, shoulder pain, and hiccups due to irritation of the phrenic nerve.


Embryologytoggle arrow icon

Many structures in the head and neck have their origin in the pharyngeal arches, pharyngeal pouches, and pharyngeal grooves. For a detailed description of these see branchial apparatus.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Panchbhavi VK. Neck Anatomy. In: Gest TR, Neck Anatomy. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: November 30, 2017. Accessed: June 7, 2018.
  2. Standring S. Gray's Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. Elsevier Health Sciences ; 2016

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