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Subclavian artery: Regional approach and mnemonic

Recommended video: Arteries of the thorax [06:17]
Arteries found in the thorax.

The subclavian artery is a paired arterial vessel of the thorax. The right and left arteries have different origins; the left subclavian artery originates directly from the aortic arch, while the right subclavian artery originates from the brachiocephalic trunk.

In relation to the anterior scalene muscles, the subclavian artery can be divided into three segments that include the prescalene, retroscalene, and postscalene parts. 

The main function of the subclavian artery is to supply blood to the upper limbs, thorax,  neck, and brain

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the subclavian artery.

Key facts about the subclavian artery
Origin Left subclavian artery: Aortic arch
Right subclavian artery: Brachiocephalic trunk
Branches  Vertebral artery
I
nternal thoracic artery
T
hyrocervical trunk
C
ostocervical trunk
D
orsal scapular artery

Mnemonic: 'VIT C and D'
Supply Upper limbs, thorax, neck region, brain
Contents
  1. Origin and course
  2. Branches and supply
  3. Mnemonic
  4. Clinical relations
    1. Subclavian steal syndrome
  5. Sources
+ Show all

Origin and course

The subclavian arteries are among the largest arteries of the thorax and neck regions and are located just inferior to the clavicles.

The left subclavian artery arises directly from the aortic arch, just distal to the origin of the left common carotid artery. The right subclavian artery originates from the brachiocephalic trunk along with the right common carotid artery. Although the two subclavian arteries originate from the different arterial vessels, they follow the same course within the neck region.

From their origin, the left and right subclavian arteries arch superolaterally and course towards the axillary region. Along their course, they pass posterior to the anterior scalene muscles and anterior to the middle scalene muscles. Based on their relation to the anterior scalene muscles, the subclavian arteries can be divided into three parts which include: 

  • Prescalene part - the part before the medial border of the anterior scalene muscle. 
  • Retroscalene part - the part located posterior to the anterior scalene muscle. 
  • Postscalene part - the part after the lateral border of the anterior scalene muscle.

The subclavian artery terminates upon reaching the lateral border of the first rib, where it becomes the axillary artery.

Why not solidify what you've learned with some flashcards? We've written an article on how you can make your own!

Branches and supply

Along its course, the subclavian artery gives off several branches that supply various structures of the upper body. These branches can be organized into three groups according to the part of the artery from which they arise. 

Branches of the first (prescalene) part of the artery include: 

The second (retroscalene) part gives off a single branch called the costocervical trunk. This  is a short artery that supplies the posterior cervical muscles and upper thorax. 

The third (postscalene) part of the subclavian artery also usually has only one branch, the dorsal scapular artery. This artery provides arterial supply for muscles of the upper back and shoulder including the  trapezius muscle, levator scapulae muscle and rhomboid muscles.

Test your knowledge of the main arteries of the head and neck with this quiz.

Mnemonic

One smart and fun way to remember the correct order and names of the most important branches of the subclavian artery is to learn the mnemonic 'VIT C and D'. It covers the following structures:

  • Vertebral artery
  • Internal thoracic artery
  • Thyrocervical trunk
  • Costocervical trunk
  • Dorsal scapular artery

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