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Variation of neck muscle strength along the human cervical spine.

  • Oi, Nelson
  • Pandy, Marcus G
  • Myers, Barry S
  • Nightingale, Roger W
  • Chancey, Valeta Carol
Published Article
Stapp car crash journal
Publication Date
Nov 01, 2004
PMID: 17230275


The aim of this study was to describe and explain the variation of neck muscle strength along the cervical spine. A three-dimensional model of the head-neck complex was developed to test the hypothesis that the moment-generating capacity of the neck musculature is lower in the upper cervical spine than in the lower cervical spine. The model calculations suggest that the neck muscles can protect the lower cervical spine from injury during extension and lateral bending. The maximum flexor moment developed in the lower cervical spine was 2 times higher than that developed in the upper spine. The model also predicted that the neck musculature is 30% stronger in the lower cervical spine during lateral bending. Peak compressive forces (up to 3 times body weight) were higher in the lower cervical spine. These results are consistent with the clinical finding that extension loading of the neck often leads to injuries in the upper cervical spine. Analysis of the model results showed that neck flexor strength was greater in the lower cervical spine because of the relatively large size of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. The hyoid muscles developed significant flexor moments about the joints of the upper cervical spine, as these muscles had relatively large flexor moment arms; however, this effect was offset by the action of the sternocleidomastoid, which exerted a large extensor moment in the upper spine. Lateral bending strength of the neck muscles was governed by geometry (i.e., moment arms) rather than by muscle size.

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