Superficial muscles are the muscles closest to the skin surface and can usually be seen while a body is performing actions. Many in the neck help to stabilize or move the head. Some also create facial expressions.  

The fan-shaped trapezius muscles extend from the back of the skull down to the middle of the back, along the spine, and fan over into the shoulders. These muscles give the sides of the neck their shape. Although anchored in the neck, their primary functions are to move the shoulder blades and support the arms.

In the front of the neck, the platysma muscle extends up from the chest, goes over the collarbone, and ends at the jaw. It pulls down the lower face and mouth and causes wrinkles in these spots. These movements can be seen when a person gives a look of disgust, such as a grimace.

Located underneath the platysma on the sides of the neck are the sternocleidomastoid muscles. With one on each side of the neck, these help flex the neck and rotate the head upward and side to side. They stretch from behind the ear diagonally to the center of the chest at the sternum.

These muscles and the deep muscles of the neck can be the causes of neck pain due to muscle strains, muscle tension, and other issues.

A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain. This is often a result of incorrect posture. For example, people often lean forward in their chairs while working at computers instead of scooting closer.

The easiest way to avoid neck pain in these situations is to keep your neck and shoulders square in good posture and either move your chair forward or bring your materials closer to you. If you strain to get closer, you could develop a sore neck.

Car crashes and other high-impact accidents can cause lasting neck pain as the sudden stopping can jerk the head forward or backward and injure the neck muscles.

Common treatments for minor neck pain include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Heat or ice
  • Pain-relieving rubs
  • Massage
  • Rest
  • Ergonomic chairs and pillows