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Temporal fossa

The temporal fossa is a shallow depression on the temporal region of the skull. It forms one of the largest landmarks of the skull and is located superior to the zygomatic arch and inferior to the superior temporal line. The temporal fossa communicates with the infratemporal fossa inferiorly via an opening deep to the zygomatic arch. 

The temporal fossa has a large floor, which is comprised of four skull bones (parietal, temporal, frontal and sphenoid bones). The fossa is mainly occupied by the temporalis muscle which has a wide attachment spread across the fossa. The temporal fossa also harbors some important neurovascular structures such as the deep temporal vessels and nerves. 

This article will provide a complete overview of the anatomy and structure of the temporal fossa.

Key facts about the temporal fossa
Definition A shallow depression on the temporal region of the skull located between the superior temporal line and the zygomatic arch
Borders Superior and posterior: Superior temporal line
Anteriorly: Frontal process of the zygomatic bone, zygomatic process of frontal bone
Inferiorly: Zygomatic arch, infratemporal crest of greater wing of sphenoid
Laterally: Temporal fascia, zygomatic arch
Contents Muscles: Temporalis muscle
Vessels: Superficial temporal artery and vein, middle temporal artery and vein, deep temporal arteries and veins
Nerves: Deep temporal nerves, zygomaticotemporal nerve, auriculotemporal nerve and temporal branches of the facial nerve
Communications Infratemporal fossa, zygomatic canal
Contents
  1. Anatomy
  2. Contents
    1. Muscles
    2. Vessels
    3. Nerves
  3. Sources
+ Show all

Anatomy

The temporal region can be subdivided into two main regions: the superior region (temporal fossa) and the inferior region (infratemporal fossa), separated by the zygomatic arch. The temporal fossa represents the wide area of the lateral skull above the zygomatic arch. 

The superior and posterior margins of the fossa are formed by the superior temporal line. Inferiorly, the temporal fossa is bordered by the zygomatic arch and the infratemporal crest of the greater wing of the sphenoid bone. Anteriorly, it is limited by the posterior surface of the frontal process of the zygomatic bone and the posterior surface of the zygomatic process of the frontal bone. Laterally, a tough fan-shaped aponeurosis, known as the temporal fascia forms the boundary of the temporal fossa superiorly, while inferiorly, the zygomatic arch forms the lateral boundary of the temporal fossa. 

The temporal fossa is continuous with the infratemporal fossa inferiorly. This connection is established via the opening located deep to the zygomatic arch. This is an important clinical point, mainly for spreading infections. An additional connection is formed with the zygomaticotemporal foramen on the anteromedial surface of the zygomatic bone. This passageway allows for the transmission of the zygomaticotemporal nerve. 

The floor of the temporal fossa is somewhat vertically oriented. It is formed by the four skull bones that meet at their junction called the pterion. These bones include:

  • The posterior part of the frontal bone 
  • The anteroinferior part of the parietal bone
  • The lateral aspect of the greater wing of the sphenoid bone
  • The squamous part of the temporal bone 

The roof of the temporal fossa is formed by the temporal fascia which overlies the temporalis muscle and attaches to the superior temporal line.

The temporal fossa hosts two prominent lines known as the superior and inferior temporal lines. 

The superior temporal line is an arching ridge that begins as a continuation of the superior posterior border of the zygomatic bone and continues as a broad arch along the frontal and parietal bones. It runs roughly parallel to the upper edge of the temporal bone. The superior temporal line gives attachment to the temporal fascia. 

The inferior temporal line runs parallel to the superior temporal line and indicates the most superior extent of the temporalis muscle.

Contents

Muscles

The temporal fossa is mostly occupied by a single masticatory muscle, known as the temporal muscle. Its origin spreads across the whole temporal fossa from the inferior temporal line. The fibers of the temporalis muscle converge onto a narrow tendon that runs medially to the zygomatic arch to insert onto the coronoid process of the mandible. 

Vessels

The superficial temporal artery, a terminal branch of the external carotid artery, traverses the temporal fossa coursing superiorly above the superficial temporal fascia. This is an important clinical landmark for palpating the pulse in the temporal region. A large branch of the superficial temporal artery is the middle temporal artery that supplies the temporalis muscle. 

The artery is accompanied by the superficial temporal vein. The vein runs anterior to the artery, located between the two layers of the temporal fascia.

The deep temporal arteries (anterior, middle and posterior) are branches from the second part of the maxillary artery. They course superiorly between the temporalis muscle and the pericranium supplying the overlying muscle. These arteries are also usually accompanied by the corresponding veins that drain the deep aspects of the temporal fossa. 

Nerves

The temporal fossa contains several nervous branches that include:

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