Splenius Capitis

Description[edit | edit source]

Spenius capitis

Splenius capitis is a thick, flat muscle at the posterior aspect of the neck arising from the midline and extending superolaterally to the cervical vertebrae and, along with the splenius cervicis, comprise the superficial layer of intrinsic back muscles.[1]

In relation to its surrounding musculature, it sits:

Origin[edit | edit source]

Occiput attachments

Lower half of ligamentum nuchae (C4-C6) and spinous process of C7-T3[1]

Insertion[edit | edit source]

Superior nuchal line, mastoid process of temporal bone, and rough surface adjoining occipital bone[1]

Nerve and Supply[edit | edit source]

Nerve: Lateral branches of the posterior rami of the middle and lower cervical spinal nerves.[1]Blood: Muscular branches of the occipital artery from the external carotid artery.[1]

Action[edit | edit source]

Splenius capitis assists in supporting the head in the erect position.[1]

Acting bilaterally: extension of the head and cervical spine
Acting unilaterally: lateral flexion of the head and neck and rotation the head to the same side (when working synergistically with sternocleidomastoid). [1]

The muscle tightens with mandibular protrusive movement and in the wide opening movement of the lower jaw.[2]

Synergists: splenius cervicis, semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis, superior portion of trapezius.

Physiotherapy[edit | edit source]

Dysfunction of splenius capitis may be found in those with mechanical chronic neck pain[3] or whiplash disorders. In people with neck pain there may also be overactivity of superficial muscles, splenius capitis and inhibition of Semispinalis Cervicis.[4] Effective management of this condition should include exercises that focus on activating Semispinalis Cervicis, as well as stretching and myofascial release of the splenius capitis.


The most common cause of muscle tension headache (MTH) results from inflammatory changes at the site of muscular attachment on the occipital ridge.  In the adult, this occurs most often at the attachment of the Splenius Capitis Muscles causing Splenius Capitis Muscle Syndrome. This is a very painful and commonly occurring syndrome. It typically mimics the respective pain reference patterns of temporal tendinitis and migraine headache. The painful headache starts at the lateral margin of the superior nuchal line and medial to the mastoid process. As inflammation develops, entrapment and irritation of Greater Occipital Nerve results. The onset of pain is often caused by eg motor vehicular trauma, blunt trauma, falls. The most frequent cause is postural, from prolonged periods of keeping the head in a downward, rotated and forward position. The muscle tension results in micro trauma to the muscular attachment, swelling ensues, and myalgia/neuralgia result.  [2][5].

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Moore KL. Dalley AF. Agur AMR. Clinically Orientated Anatomy. 7th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 PPM Splenius Capitis Muscle Syndrome Available: https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/maxillofacial/splenius-capitis-muscle-syndrome (accessed 3.2.2022)
  3. Bonilla-Barba L. Lima Florencio L. Rodriguez-Jimenez J. Falla D. Fernandez-de-las-Penas C. Ortega-Santiago R. Women with mechanical neck pain exhibit increased activation of their superficial neck extensors when performing the cranio-cervical flexion test. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2020;49:102222.
  4. Schomacher J. Erlenwein J. Dieterich A. Petzke F. Petzkeb F. Falla D. Can neck exercises enhance the activation of the semispinalis cervicis relative to the splenius capitis at specific spinal levels? Manual therapy.  2015;20:694-702.
  5. Pain doctor Muscle tension headaches Available:https://paindoctor.typepad.com/martial_arts_injuries/2009/06/muscle-tension-headache-splenius-capitis-syndrome.html (accessed 3.2.2022)
  6. Painotopia. Splenius capitis and cervicis pain & trigger points – myofascial release. Avaliable from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFSn6QEMyPM (accessed 14/11/2021)
  7. MSK Neurology. Exercise for the splenius capitis muscle. Avaliable from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEpNRI-DfKw (assessed 14/11/2021)