Functional Anatomy – Suboccipital muscles

The suboccipital muscles attach the atlas and axis to the bottom of the occiput. They secure the head on the atlas and fine-tune movement of the cranium on the atlas and axis.

This post also includes the anterior sub-occipitals.


The Posterior Suboccipital muscles

Rectus Capitis posterior Major attaches the transverse process of the axis to the inferior nuchal line.

Action: extension and rotation of the head

Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor attaches o the posterior tubercle of the atlas and the superior nuchal line.

Action: extension of the head

Obliquus Capitis Superior attaches to the transverse process of the atlas and the inferior nuchal line.

Action: extension of the head

Obliquus Capitis Inferior attaches to the spinous process of the axis and the transverse process of the atlas.

Action: extension and rotation of the atlas on the axis.

Click here for the Wikipedia entry for Suboccipital muscles


The Anterior Suboccipital muscles

These muscles are often not included in the list of suboccipital muscles but are referred to as the anterior suboccipital muscles.


Rectus Capitis anterior attaches to the lateral mass and transverse process of the atlas and the basilar portion of the occiput.

Action: Flexion of the atlantooccipital joint

Rectus Capitis Lateralis Attaches to the jugular process of the occiput and the transverse process of the atlas.

Action: lateral flexion of the atlantooccipital joint



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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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