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Superficial temporal artery: want to learn more about it?

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Superficial temporal artery

Superficial temporal artery (Arteria temporalis superficialis)

The superficial temporal artery is a terminal branch of the external carotid artery. It originates at the level of the neck of the mandible. After traversing the parotid gland, it runs superficially to the zygomatic process of the temporal bone.

When the superficial temporal artery enters the scalp in the temporal region, it gives off two terminal branches that supply the skin and pericranium of the frontal and parietal regions. Additionally, this artery supplies the parotid gland, temporomandibular joint and several muscles of the head and face.

Key facts about the superficial temporal artery
Origin Terminal branch of external carotid artery
Branches Parotid branch, transverse facial artery, anterior auricular branches, zygomatico-orbital artery, middle temporal artery, frontal branch, parietal branch
Supply Skin and muscles at the side of the face and in the scalp, parotid gland,  temporomandibular joint

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the superficial temporal artery.

Course

The superficial temporal artery is the smaller of two terminal branches of the external carotid artery. While the bigger branch, maxillary artery, courses transversally towards the face, the superficial temporal artery continues in the same direction as the external carotid artery.

The superficial temporal artery originates in the parotid gland, at the level of the neck of the mandible. It runs tortuously upward crossing over the zygomatic process in front of the tragus of the auricle accompanied by the matching vein and auriculotemporal nerve. This is an important clinical landmark for palpating the pulse in the temporal region. When it reaches the parietal surface of calvaria, approximately 3 cm superior to the zygomatic process, it gives off two terminal branches (anterior and posterior).

Branches and supply

Superficial temporal artery gives off several branches that include:

  • Parotid branch

  • Transverse facial artery

  • Anterior auricular branch

  • Zygomatico-orbital artery

  • Middle temporal artery

  • Frontal branch

  • Parietal branch

At the beginning of its course (in the parotid gland), the superficial temporal artery gives off the parotid and transverse facial arteries. The parotid branch immediately terminates supplying the surrounding parotid tissue. The transverse facial artery continues its course parallel to the zygomatic process, giving off several branches that supply the parotid duct, masseter muscle and the adjacent skin.

Zygomatico-orbital and middle temporal arteries originate at the level of the zygomatic arch to supply the temporal and orbicularis oculi muscles, respectively. The anterior auricular branch supplies the auricle and the external acoustic meatus.

When it reaches the calvaria in the temporal region, the superficial temporal artery gives off two terminal branches: anterior (frontal) branch and posterior (parietal) branch. The anterior branch runs anterosuperiorly supplying the muscles, pericranium and skin of the lateral frontal area. The larger, posterior branch runs superiorly and slightly posterior supplying the skin and pericranium of the parietal area of the scalp.

Learn more about the superficial arteries and veins of the head with our articles, videos, labeled diagrams and quizzes.

Anatomical variations

Certain anatomical variations of the superficial temporal artery are noted in the literature. When larger in diameter, this artery can give rise to several branches normally provided by other arteries. For example: maxillary (normally from external carotid), lateral nasal and labial arteries (normally provided by facial artery). On the other hand, some branches of the superficial temporal artery can originate from other adjacent arteries. The best example of this variation is the transverse facial artery that can arise directly from the external carotid.

Clinical relations

Temporal arteritis

Temporal arteritis (Horton's arteritis) is a form of systemic inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis). It is generally a rare medical condition, but one of the most common vascular disorders. Because of its pathological features, it is also referred to as giant-cell arteritis. It is characterized by severe inflammation of the arteries, most commonly the superficial temporal artery.

Clinical presentation includes severe headache, fever, pain and tenderness over the temples, frequent vision disturbances, etc. If not diagnosed quickly and treated, it is potentially lethal due to severe vascular complications (e.g. stroke). The golden standard for the diagnosis of this condition is to biopsy the affected artery. It is treated by immunosuppressant therapy, such as corticosteroids.

Dissection

Dissection of the superficial temporal artery is often required in preparation for bypass procedures in neurosurgery. Due to its suitable diameter, the parietal branch of the superficial temporal artery is commonly used for the superficial temporal-middle cerebral artery bypass.

Superficial temporal artery: 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., Dalley, A. F., & Agur, A. M. R. (2014). Clinically Oriented Anatomy (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Netter, F. (2019). Atlas of Human Anatomy (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.
  • Standring, S. (2016). Gray's Anatomy (41tst ed.). Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
  • Tubbs, R. S., Shoja, M. M., Loukas, M., & Bergman, R. A. (2016). Bergman’s comprehensive encyclopedia of human anatomic variation. Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Gutierrez-Avila, O., Moroi, J., Ishikawa, T. (2020). Dissection of the Superficial Temporal Artery: Significance and Performance with Bipolar Forceps. World Neurosurg.134:94–7.

Illustrators:

  • Superficial temporal artery (Arteria temporalis superficialis) - Yousun Koh
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