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Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle: Head and Neck Pain

The semispinalis cervicis is a muscle found in the neck and upper back. Trigger points in the muscle cause pain, tingling, and a burning sensation in the upper neck that extends up into the back of the head.

Contents of Article

    Where is the semispinalis cervicis muscle?

    Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle Showing Trigger Point Locations

    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 it 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


    For detailed muscle anatomy visit Semispinalis Cervicis Anatomy


    Semispinalis Cervicis Muscle Trigger Points Symptoms:

    Semispinalis Referred Pain Pattern
    • 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

    TWD Recommends

    The Huggaroo Neck Wrap is a large wrap that will treat neck, upper shoulder, and upper back muscle pain. It can be used cold for injury and swelling or warmed for deep penetrating heat. It works well to treat the neck and upper back muscles and reduce muscle pain and symptoms.

    Activities that cause semispinalis cervicis muscle pain:

    • Blow to the back of the head
    • Whiplash
    • Wearing a cervical collar
    • Holding shoulders up
    • Stress

    Semispinalis Cervicis Trigger Point Treatment

    The semispinalis cervicis muscle can be self-treated. TWD highly recommends The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook to learn the technique. It is an excellent resource to learn how to find and treat trigger points not only in the neck but throughout the body.

    If you are not comfortable learning self-treatment, find a massage therapist, chiropractor, or physical therapist trained in trigger point therapy. They will teach you how to find specific TrPs and show you self-treatment methods. Trigger points should be treated 1-2 minutes per treatment several times throughout the day for the best outcome.

    Neck Strain Injuries

    If you have a neck muscle strain injury, it is recommended that you use cold therapy 24-72 hours after the injury occurs. Once the swelling and inflammation have reduced, you should alternate cold and warm treatments.

    TWD Recommends

    The Craniocradle  was developed to treat headaches and stiff necks. The cradle applies pressure to the muscles while providing gentle traction to the neck. Use for 5-10 minutes and feel a reduction in pain and stress. The cradle can also be used to treat other areas, including the low back and hip area. Instructions are provided.

    Sombra Warm Therapy warms and relaxes muscles without the burning heat of other heating creams/gels. Apply Sombra to the neck and upper back before using the CranioCradle to relax the muscles, which will improve the effectiveness of the cradle.

    TWD Recommends: Neck Muscle Injuries

    Note: If you have suffered a whiplash injury or strained a neck muscle, it is recommended that you use cold therapy during the acute phase of the injury. Cold therapy is also recommended for migraine headaches.

    For muscle injuries and migraines, use Biofreeze Cooling Gel. Biofreeze works like ice in that it cools the area and may help reduce inflammation. Rub the gel into the neck, shoulders, and upper back for pain relief. It is used and recommended by therapists and doctors for musculoskeletal injuries and pain.

    The Elasto-Gel Cervical Roll is a hot/cold pack recommended for whiplash injuries and neck pain. Chill the roll and place it under the neck for 20 minutes. Apply Biofreeze after using the chilled roll to prolong the treatment.

    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 head's weight. This muscle should always be examined when there is a complaint of head pain or headache.
    • It is part of the transversospinalis muscle group

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

    • Tension headaches
    • Cluster headache
    • Military neck
    • 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:

    If you find trigger points in the semispinalis cervicis you will want to check these muscles for additional trigger points.

    • Trapezius
    • Levator Scalpulae

    TWD Recommends

    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 slowly build up the time spent using the tool. For many first-time users, the device 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, and many of my clients relieve headaches, sore, stiff necks, and upper back strain.

    Muscles With Similar Pain Patterns

    Semispinalis Capitis
    Splenius Cervicis Muscle
    Longissimus Capitis