Function & Anatomy of the Muscles of the Face, Neck & Back

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Do you know how many muscles are in your face? Or what animal has the largest tongue? Learn the answer to these questions and more in this lesson on the muscle anatomy of the face, neck and back.

Muscles of the Face

Did you know that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? Maybe that's why laughing is so easy! Or that your tongue is actually a muscle? And that the tongue of a blue whale is the size of an elephant? And that, all in all, your face has about 43 muscles in it? All of these muscles are used for things like:

  • chewing
  • talking
  • facial expressions
  • seeing

Of all these muscles, the largest group is associated with the mouth. They are the ones that allow you to open and close your mouth, move your lips and the corners of your mouth and all the movements needed to do things like whistle, smile, talk and eat. Some of the major muscles used in chewing are the buccinator and masseter muscles. These muscles help move food from the front of the mouth back to the throat. The masseter is the strongest jaw muscle - it helps move the jaw bone up and down as you chew. Think of it like this: the masseter is massive, and massive things are strong.

But they don't work alone. The movement of chewing is also aided by smaller muscles called the temporalis and pterygoid muscles. They help move your bottom jaw back and forth and from side to side. If you put your hand on the side of your cheek, then move your jaw like you are grinding your teeth, you can feel the temporalis muscles. And, both temporalis and teeth start with a 'T,' so that might make it easier to remember.

Now, if you move your jaw from left to right, you can feel the pterygoid muscles. They are located behind your teeth and underneath some of the more superficial muscles of your face. If you're a dinosaur fan, you know that pterodactyls have large jaws. And the pterygoid kind of sounds like something a pterodactyl might have to help it move those jaws back and forth.

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  • 0:07 Muscles of the Face
  • 2:15 Muscles of the Neck
  • 3:48 Muscles of the Back
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Muscles of the Neck

Moving below the many muscles of the face and head, you have the muscles of the neck. At the front, many of the outer muscles span the length from your jawbone down to your sternum and clavicle bone. These help the muscles of the face move your jaw.

Moving around to the side and back of the neck, the outer muscles originate at the base of the skull or the vertebrae of the neck and insert down at the scapula. These muscles help support and move your head and neck. You know how when babies are first born they can't hold their head up? It's kind of a little floppy. Well, that's because they haven't developed strength in these muscles yet.

Some of them, like the sternocleidomastoid, are located on both sides of the neck. This pair of muscles flexes the neck, bends the head towards the shoulders and turns your face from side to side. That's a lot of functions for one set of muscles! Others, like the levator scapula, work with the muscles of the back to move the scapula, aiding in shoulder movements and helping you sit up straight, or maintain good posture.

If you were to cut away the outer muscles of the neck, underneath you would see more muscles. These inner muscles control your larynx (or voicebox) and help move food through your pharynx into the esophagus. Without them, you would have trouble both eating and talking.

Muscles of the Back

The back contains numerous axial muscles that run up and down the spine. Together, all these muscles can extend, flex and rotate the vertebral column. In between the longer muscles are smaller ones that help stabilize the vertebrae. Injury to these muscles can result in pressure on the nerves exiting the spinal column, resulting in pain and difficulty moving.

These are covered by the more superficial appendicular muscles of the back, such as the trapezius and the latissimus dorsi. They are considered appendicular because, even though they have origins on the vertebrae, their insertion points are on the appendicular skeleton.

Let's start up at the top. Right below the neck we have the rhomboid muscles. They originate on the cervical and thoracic vertebrae, and insert on the back of the scapula, making it an appendicular muscle. And, just as the name suggests, these muscles are kind of shaped like a rhombus, a stretched-out diamond shape.

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