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Orbicularis oculi: want to learn more about it?

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Orbicularis oculi

Orbicularis oculi is a paired facial muscle that surrounds each orbit and the adjacent periorbital region. Together with corrugator supercilii and levator palpebrae superioris, it belongs to the circumorbital and palpebral group of muscles that surround the eye.

Orbicularis oculi consists of an orbital, palpebral and deep palpebral part. The muscle extends between three bones of the viscerocranium (frontal bone, maxilla, lacrimal bone) and the soft tissue structures of the periorbital region. Under the control of the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII), orbicularis oculi closes the eye. Depending on the degree and frequency of closure, this action can be essential for hydrating the eye, protecting it or non-verbally conveying a message with a cheeky wink.

Key facts about the orbicularis oculi muscle
Origin Nasal part of frontal bone, frontal process of maxilla, medial palpebral ligament, lacrimal bone
Insertion

Skin of orbital region, lateral palpebral raphe, superior and inferior tarsal plates

Actions

Orbital part: Closes eyelids tightly

Palpebral part: Closes eyelids gently

Deep palpebral part: Compresses lacrimal sac

Innervation Temporal and zygomatic branches of facial nerve (CN VII)
Blood supply

Maxillary, superficial temporal, facial and ophthalmic arteries.

This article will describe the anatomy and functions of the orbicularis oculi muscle.

Origin and insertion

Orbicularis oculi is a flat, broad muscle that forms an ellipse around the circumference of the orbit.  It is composed of orbital, palpebral and deep palpebral parts, each of which has its own specific set of attachments:

  • Orbital part: overlays the orbital rim and originates from the nasal part of frontal bone, frontal process of maxilla and medial palpebral ligament. The fibers encircle the orbit completely, extending into the soft tissues of adjacent regions. The orbital part has no bony insertions, but instead it attaches to various soft tissue structures of the periorbital region. The upper fibers merge with the occipitofrontalis, corrugator supercilii and depressor supercilii muscles, finally inserting into the skin and subcutaneous tissue of the eyebrow. The inferior and medial fibers of the orbital part blend with the levator labii superioris, levator nasolabialis and zygomaticus minor muscles. The most peripheral fibers can stretch even further, loosely inserting into the temporal part of the epicranial aponeurosis.
  • Palpebral part: originates from the superficial surface of the medial palpebral ligament. The muscle fibers compose the eyelids as they travel towards the lateral commissure of the eye. Here, the superior and inferior fibers unite and insert into the lateral palpebral ligament (raphe). The most peripheral fibers of the palpebral part that travel along the margins of each eyelid form the ciliary bundle.
  • Deep palpebral part: also known as the lacrimal part, originates from the lateral surface and lacrimal crest (superior part) of lacrimal bone. The fibers course laterally, passing posterior to the lacrimal sac. Some insert into the superior and inferior tarsi of eyelids, while others continue past the tarsi to insert into the lateral palpebral ligament.

Relations

Orbicularis oculi is located in the orbital region of the face. It surrounds the orbit and extends into nearby regions of the head; eyelids, eyebrows, temporal and infraorbital regions. The muscle overlies corrugator supercilii and it blends inferiorly with the highly variable malaris muscle, when present. Fibers of levator palpebrae superioris pierce orbicularis oculi on their way towards the skin of the upper eyelid.

The orbital part of orbicularis oculi is pierced by two major neurovasculature structures; the supraorbital vein and zygomaticofacial nerve. Orbicularis oculi is situated superficial to the palpebral branches of infraorbital nerve, which also pierce the muscle.

Innervation

Orbicularis oculi is innervated by the zygomatic and temporal branches of facial nerve (cranial nerve VII).

Blood supply

Orbicularis oculi receives arterial blood from three branches of the external carotid artery: maxillary, superficial temporal and facial arteries. The ophthalmic artery, a branch of the internal carotid artery, also supplies the muscle.

Functions

Orbicularis oculi is considered the sphincter of the eyelids involved in facial expression, ocular protection and reflexes. Contraction of the orbital part draws the skin of the forehead and cheek towards the nose. This protective function can partially or completely close the eyelids, limiting exposure to potential damaging factors such as bright light or blowing dust.

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Contraction of the palpebral part results in finer control of the eyelids. These muscle fibers pull the upper eyelids down and raise the lower ones. Thereby, isolated voluntary contraction of the palpebral part gently closes the eyelids, for example when blinking or sleeping. The palpebral part can also involuntarily close the eyelids as a reflex mechanism. This protective action wipes the tears produced by the lacrimal gland across the surface of the eyeball, in order to keep it moist and free of potentially irritating particles. The fine control of the eyelids performed by the palpebral part also facilitates non-verbal communication and expression.

Lastly, contraction of the deep palpebral part pulls the eyelids and lacrimal papillae medially and dilates the lacrimal sac. These actions work together to facilitate tear drainage across the cornea. This part is also involved in compressing the lacrimal gland and ducts, further improving tear flow. Unfortunately, contraction of orbicularis oculi can have some adverse effects. For example, it creates skin folds at the lateral angle of the eyelids (‘crow’s feet’), more commonly known as wrinkles.

Find out more about other facial muscles and learn them in an easy way using the following resources:

Clinical notes

The involvement of orbicularis oculi in blinking and eyeball hydration can have important clinical consequences in day to day living. Paralysis of the facial nerve (Bell’s palsy, stroke, trauma, infection) results in an inability to close the eye and failure to blink. This causes inefficient lubrication and a condition known as dry eye syndrome (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), which manifests with redness, inflammation, irritation, discharge and fatigue of the eyes.

These problems can also appear during prolonged computer usage. When exposed to visual stressors (glare, small fonts, etc.), blood flow and voluntary contraction of orbicularis oculi increase, resulting in squinting, less blinking and tear evaporation.

Orbicularis oculi: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

What do you prefer to learn with?

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Moore, K.L., Agur, A.M.R., Dalley, A.F. (2015). Essential Clinical Anatomy, 5th Edition, Wolters Kluwer
  • Standring, S. (2016). Gray's Anatomy (41tst ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone
  • Palastanga, N., & Soames, R. (2012). Anatomy and human movement: structure and function (6th ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone
  • Thorud, H. M., Helland, M., Aaras, A., Kvikstad, T. M., Lindberg, L. G., & Horgen, G. (2012). Eye-related pain induced by visually demanding computer work. Optom Vis Sci, 89(4), E452-464. doi: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e31824c1801
  • Akkaya, S., Atakan, T., Acikalin, B., Aksoy, S., & Ozkurt, Y. (2018). Effects of long-term computer use on eye dryness. Northern clinics of Istanbul, 5(4), 319–322. doi:10.14744/nci.2017.54036

Illustrations:

  • Orbicularis oculi muscle (musculus orbicularis oculi) - Yousun Koh
  • Facial muscles and some relations of orbicularis oculi - Yousun Koh

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