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Compartments of the neck

Learning objectives

On completion of this study unit, you will be able to: 

  1. Identify the fascial layers of the neck. 
  2. Locate the compartments and spaces formed by the fascia of the neck. 
  3. Name and describe the contents of each of the compartments of the neck.

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Fasciae of the neck (cervical fascia) are multilayered sheaths of connective tissue that wrap the structures of the neck and can be divided into two layers: a superficial layer (superficial cervical fascia) and a deep layer (deep cervical fascia). The cervical fasciae provide longitudinal organization by separating the tissues of the neck and therefore largely limit the spread of infection in response to pathology or trauma. The superficial cervical fascia (i.e. subcutaneous tissue or tela subcutanea) lies deep to the skin and does not contribute to the formation of the neck compartments. However, the deep cervical fascia typically has three separate layers that contribute to the formation of the spaces and compartments of the neck. These layers include: 

  • The superficial layer (investing layer, external layer, parotidomasseteric fascia)
  • The middle layer (pretracheal layer, buccopharyngeal fascia)
  • The deep layer (deep investing layer, prevertebral layer)

A compartment is a section of the body bounded by fascia. The internal structures of the neck are divided into four main compartments: the visceral compartment, vertebral compartment and two vascular compartments. Each compartment is contained within unique layers of deep cervical fascia. 

The fasciae of the neck also contribute to the formation of three fascial spaces: the pretracheal space, the retropharyngeal space and the danger space (of Grodinsky). These spaces extend from the base of the skull to the mediastinum and in doing so may provide a conduit for the passage of infection from the neck to the thoracic cavity.

Find out more about the cervical fascia, compartments and spaces of the neck with the video below. 

Take a quiz

Now that you have a good understanding of the fascia and compartments of the neck, it’s time to test your knowledge!

Looking for a broader array of questions on the anatomy of the head and neck? Try out our fully customizable quiz below.

Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the compartments of the neck in the gallery below. 


Key points about the compartments of the neck
Visceral compartment Fascia: Middle layer of deep cervical fascia (pretracheal fascia, buccopharyngeal fascia)
: Thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, larynx, trachea, hypopharynx, recurrent laryngeal nerve, esophagus
: Superior part of hyoid bone → superior mediastinum
Vertebral compartment Fascia: Deep layer of deep cervical fascia (prevertebral fascia → alar fascia)
: Cervical vertebrae, longus colli muscle, scalenus anterior, medius and posterior muscles, deep cervical muscles (splenius cervicis, splenius capitis, semispinalis cervicis, semispinalis capitis, multifidus muscle), levator scapulae muscle
Extent: Base of skull → superior mediastinum
Vascular compartment x2 Fascia: Deep cervical fascia (Investing, middle and deep layers)
: Common carotid artery, internal jugular vein, vagus nerve (CN X)
: Base of skull → aortic arch of superior mediastinum
Key points about the spaces of the neck
Pretracheal space Location: Between infrahyoid fascia and pretracheal fascia
: Thyroid cartilage → to superior mediastinum
Retropharyngeal space Location: Between buccopharyngeal fascia and prevertebral fascia
: Base of skull → upper part of posterior mediastinum
Danger space (of Grodinsky) Location: Between prevertebral fascia and alar fascia
: Base of skull → diaphragm (via posterior mediastinum)

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