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Posterior auricular artery

Recommended video: Arteries of the head and neck [18:08]
Major arteries of the head and neck.
Posterior auricular artery (Arteria auricularis posterior)

The posterior auricular artery is the superficial, preterminal branch of the external carotid artery. It mainly overlies the temporal bone, extending posterior to the parotid gland and auricle.

The posterior auricular artery gives off five branches in total. They contribute to the blood supply of various neck muscles, structures of the ear and surrounding cutaneous area, parotid gland and facial nerve.

This article will discuss the anatomy and functions of the posterior auricular artery.

Key facts about the posterior auricular artery
Origin External carotid artery
Branches Stylomastoid artery, posterior tympanic artery, auricular branch, occipital branch, parotid branch, perforating muscle branches 
Supply Neck muscles: sternocleidomastoid, stylohyoid and digastric 
Ear structures: external auditory meatus, tympanic cavity, tympanic membrane, semicircular canals
Cutaneous supply: skin over the auricular and temporal regions of the head
Other structures: occipitofrontalis muscle, parotid gland, facial nerve, mastoid antrum air cells
  1. Origin and course
  2. Branches and supply
  3. Sources
+ Show all

Origin and course

The posterior auricular artery stems from the posterior aspect of the external carotid artery, proximal to its bifurcation. The point of origin is superior to the digastric and stylohyoid muscles. The artery follows a superior course within the digastric (submandibular) triangle of the neck until the level of the parotid gland.

At this point, the artery continues between the parotid gland anteriorly and the styloid process of temporal bone posteriorly until it reaches the auricle of the ear. From there, it turns posterosuperiorly, continuing between the auricular cartilage and mastoid process. The posterior auricular artery ends by anastomosing with the occipital artery.

Branches and supply

The posterior auricular artery has five branches:

  • The stylomastoid artery extends through the stylomastoid foramen to supply structures of the middle and internal ear; bony tympanic cavity, mastoid antrum and semicircular canals. It also provides oxygenated blood to the facial nerve.
  • The posterior tympanic branch contributes to the blood supply of the tympanic membrane. It anastomoses with the anterior tympanic artery, forming a vascular circle over the internal aspect of the tympanic membrane.
  • The auricular branch supplies the skin over the medial surface of the auricle. In addition, it also provides blood for the extrinsic auricular muscles; auricularis anterior, superior and posterior.
  • The occipital branch vascularizes the skin posterosuperior to the auricle and the occipital belly of occipitofrontalis muscle.
  • The parotid branch supplies the parotid gland.

Close to its point of origin, the posterior auricular artery also sends off several perforating branches to three muscles of the neck: sternocleidomastoid, digastric and stylohyoid. It also contributes to the vascular supply of the external auditory meatus.

Learn more about the anatomy of the superficial arteries of the head using the following videos, articles, quizzes and illustrations.

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