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Superior thoracic artery

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Superior thoracic artery (Arteria thoracica superior)

The superior thoracic artery (supreme thoracic artery) is a small, highly variable vessel, that originates from the proximal part of the axillary artery. It runs anteromedially, situated between the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles. The artery terminates by anastomosing with the superior intercostal and internal thoracic arteries.

The main function of this artery is to provide blood supply for the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, subclavius and serratus anterior muscles. Additionally, it supplies the muscles and adjacent skin of the first two intercostal spaces.

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the superior thoracic artery.

Key facts about the superior thoracic artery
Origin Axillary artery
Branches Unnamed collateral and terminal branches
Supply Pectoral muscles, serratus anterior muscle, serratus anterior muscle, subclavius muscle, first two intercostal muscles, skin of the thoracic wall
  1. Origin and course
  2. Branches and supply
  3. Anatomical variations
  4. Sources
+ Show all

Origin and course

The superior thoracic artery usually arises from the first part of the axillary artery, originating at the level of the subclavius muscle. It runs anteromedially and inferiorly, passing posterior to the axillary vein. It then courses along the superior border of the pectoralis minor muscle while passing between the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor muscles.

Branches and supply

Along its course, the superior thoracic artery provides several small branches that supply the structures on the anterior thoracic wall. These structures typically include:

  • Muscles and skin of the first and second (sometimes third) intercostal spaces
  • Superior aspect of the serratus anterior muscle
  • Subclavius muscle
  • Pectoralis major muscle
  • Pectoralis minor muscle

The branches of the superior thoracic artery anastomose with the several branches of the internal thoracic and superior intercostal arteries.

To learn more about the nerves and vessels of the thoracic wall check out our other articles, videos, labeled diagrams and quizzes.

Anatomical variations

  • The superior thoracic artery is present in approximately 30% of the population.
  • This artery can arise as a sole branch from the axillary artery, or it can share a common origin with the lateral thoracic artery, called the thoracoacromial trunk.
  • In a small percentage of cases, the superior thoracic artery can produce a descending branch that runs along the lateral thoracic artery.

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