Deep Neck Flexor Muscles - The Longus Colli Group

Deep neck flexor muscles are not particularly obvious to the untrained eye, but they do play an important role in the health of your neck. They tend to be affected by whiplash and other neck injuries.

Too much stress, not enough rest
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The deep neck flexors consist of: the longus colli, longus capitus, rectus capitus and longus cervicus. All help you maintain neck stability and good posture.

What makes this group of four so important? Studies published in 2016 report that about 70% of people with chronic neck pain become weaker here. If this is true of you and you get it treated, your physical therapist may give you exercises that strengthen these muscles. And your massage therapist, if he is properly trained (preferably clinically) in neuromuscular techniques, may do some intricate work on them to help release tension and restore motion.

Longus Colli - a Key Deep Cervical Flexor

FYI, of the four deep neck flexor muscles, this article talks mainly about the longus colli. It also talks about the group as a whole.

The longus colli is a deep cervical flexor muscle, which simply means that it's located close to the spine and that its job is to bend your neck forward: The longus colli moves your chin toward your chest. It also turns (rotates) and tilts your head to the side on which the muscle is located. (You have two longus colli muscles, one on either side of your neck.)

The longus colli spans between the topmost vertebra in the neck, namely the atlas, down to the 3rd thoracic vertebra, which is at the same level as the spine of the scapula in back. (The scapula is your shoulder blade. It is located at the back of your rib cage. In this case, the word “spine” does not refer to your backbone. Instead, it refers to a long, horizontally oriented projection of bone that emanates from the top part of the shoulder blade, or scapula.)

Deep Neck Flexors - Their Role in Posture and Pain

The role of the longus colli muscle and other deep cervical flexors in chronic neck pain is a complicated one. It's already established that the deep neck flexors tend to fatigue when you have chronic neck pain. In this case, you may substitute more superficial neck muscles to move your head forward, for turning or rotating - your body's way of compensating.

The deep neck flexors are also easily deactivated when you have a neck condition. This is especially true in comparison to the superficially located muscles that perform the same (neck flexion) action.

A 2016 study found that activating and strengthening the deep cervical flexors can help improve posture in this area, as well as increase functioning and reduce pain and other symptoms over the long term.

2 Sources
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  1. UpToDate. Patient education: Neck pain (Beyond the Basics).

  2. Kim JY, Kwag KI. Clinical effects of deep cervical flexor muscle activation in patients with chronic neck painJ Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(1):269–273. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.269

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.