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Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle: Head and Neck Pain

Referred pain of the semispinalis cervicis muscle.

Pain in the upper neck that extends up into the back of the head can be caused by the semispinalis cervicis muscle.

  • Pain in the back of the upper neck extending up into the back of the head
  • Headaches
  • Tenderness in the back of the head and/or neck
  • Tingling and burning in the scalp

Where is the semispinalis cervicis muscle?

The semispinalis cervicis is a muscle found in the upper back and neck. It connects the upper back vertebrae (T-3 to T-6) to the upper neck (C1, C2, C3, C4) vertebrae.

What movements does the semispinalis cervicis muscle control?

  • Straightens (extends) the neck and upper spine
  • Turns (rotates) the head side to side
  • Bends (lateral flexion) the neck to the side (ear to shoulder motion)
  • Twists (rotates) the upper spine to the side

Activities that cause semispinalis cervicis pain and symptoms:

  • Blow  to the back of the head
  • Whiplash
  • Cervical collar
  • Holding shoulders up due to stress
  • Stress

Interesting facts about the semispinalis cervicis muscle:

  • The semispinalis cervicis together with the semispinalis capitis are the strongest muscle in the neck.
  • When the head is carried forward or with a tilt the semispinalis cervicis upholds the majority of the weight of the head. This muscle should always be examined when there is a complaint of head pain or headache.
Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle

You use the semispinalis cervicis muscle when you turn your head, bend your ear toward your shoulder and straighten your neck and back.

Clinical diagnoses to which the semispinalis cervicis muscle symptoms may contribute:

  • Tension headaches
  • Cluster headache
  • Military neck
  • Occipitoatlantal Articular Dysfunction
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Herniated disc
  • Bulging disc
  • Prolapsed disc
  • Cervical spine hyperlordosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Intervertebral or Vertebral stenosis
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Rib Subluxation (Slipping Rib)
  • Whiplash
  • Vertebral vascular disorder

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the semispinalis cervicis muscle:

Satellite Triggers Points: Trapezius, Digastric, and Infraspinatus

For detailed anatomy information see: Semispinalis Cervicis Anatomy

Help with Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle Pain

Cold Therapy Gel For Recent Neck Injury

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel and I recommend it for those who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries.  It is better to use than warm therapy gels and creams for muscle pain caused by inflammation as it cools the area much like ice. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer. Biofreeze  is recommended for those who have had a recent neck injury or sudden onset pain. Rub Biofreeze into the upper back and shoulders, into the neck going up to the base of the skull. Highly recommended for early treatment of whiplash.

Biofreeze is recommended for recent muscle injury

Recommended Cold and Heat Wrap for Neck and Shoulders

Elasto-Gel Cervical Collar can be used for heat or cold therapy to the neck, upper shoulder area. This is a great wrap to use with the semispinalis cervicis as it covers the muscle. Use cold therapy for new and recent injury or sudden onset pain. Use heat therapy for injuries over a week old and chronic pain from old injuries and tight muscles. I recommend this because it conforms to the contours of your body and is well made to last for years.


Warm Therapy Gels can help relieve neck and headache pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a pain relieving gel that I use both personally and in my massage therapy practice. It provides warmth without burning heat and is great for relieving pain. It can help reduce tightness and pain in the upper back,  back of the neck  and the base of the skull often caused by the semispinalis muscles. Applying Sombra to the upper back, around the shoulder blades, up the neck, and along the base of the skull can help relax the muscle and ease the pain.

Sombra Warm Therapy Gel provides pain relief.

Tools To Provide Pressure To Help Relax Neck and Head Muscles

I use and often recommend the Neck King Massage Tool For Neck and Back to my clients who suffer from headaches, migraines and stiff necks. The Neck King works on trigger points and pressure points to help relieve muscle tension and pain. The secret to using the Neck King is to follow the directions carefully and to slowly build up the time spent using the tool. For many first-time users, the tool is too hard to use comfortably. Folding a hand towel and laying it over the Neck King will help ease the discomfort.  This tool has helped me as well as many of my clients relieve headaches, sore stiff necks and upper back strain.

Self Treatment For Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle

Do you know that small “knots” and other dysfunction in the semispinalis cervicis can contribute to pain in the neck that radiates to the back of the head? It can also contribute to extreme tenderness in the back of the head as well as a tingling or burning scalp.

When I recommend trigger point tools such as the Neck King (see above)  to my clients I always recommend that they also purchase Claire Davies  The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief Mr. Davies explain the trigger point phenomenon and muscle pain in everyday language.  But what makes this book worth its weight in gold are the individual muscle trigger point treatments that Davies has compiled. His diagrams and step by step instructions help you locate which muscles are contributing to your pain,  how to find the trigger point and treat it. It takes time and practice to master finding trigger points, but once you learn you have a tool and method to help relieve muscle pain throughout the body. If you suffer from unresolved headaches and migraines I highly recommend this book. Relieving trigger points in various head and neck muscles have helped many people resolve head and neck pain issues. This book is a must have for anyone interested in finding the cause and treating muscle pain.

The Trigger Point Workbook can help you resolve muscle pain throughout your body.