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Neurovasculature of the intercostal space: want to learn more about it?

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Neurovasculature of the intercostal space

Learning objectives

After going through this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Identify the arteries that supply the intercostal spaces, as well as their branches.
  2. Name the veins that drain the intercostal spaces and their tributaries.
  3. Describe the innervation of the intercostal spaces.

Browse atlas

Intercostal spaces lie between adjacent ribs and are filled by intercostal muscles. These spaces are traversed by intercostal nerves and associated arteries and veins forming neurovascular bundles. Each neurovascular bundle lies in the costal groove, along the inferior margin of the superior rib, and passes in the plane between the inner two layers of muscles. From superior to inferior, they are arranged as vein, artery, and then nerve. Smaller collateral branches of each nerve, artery, and vein run along the superior aspect of the lower rib. 

To get an overview of this topic, take a look at the images below!

Explore the neurovasculature of the intercostal space in the galleries below. The first gallery displays all the arteries, veins, and nerves with their branches and tributaries. The second gallery shows the intercostal muscles and the anatomic relations between the structures of the intercostal space.

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Test your knowledge on the neurovasculature of the intercostal space by taking our quiz.

You can also customize your own quiz with our custom quiz creator. On this link, you’ll find the preset for a quiz about all the structures of the thoracic wall.

Summary

Key points about the neurovasculature of the intercostal space
Arteries Anterior intercostal arteries
Origin: internal thoracic artery (upper six intercostal spaces), musculophrenic artery (lower intercostal spaces).
Branches: collateral branch.

Posterior intercostal arteries

Origin: supreme intercostal artery (upper two), descending thoracic aorta (lower nine).
Branches: dorsal branch, collateral branch, lateral cutaneous branch.
Veins Anterior intercostal veins
Drain into: internal thoracic vein.

Posterior intercostal veins

Supreme intercostal vein (1st) drains into brachiocephalic vein.
Right 2nd-3rd form right superior intercostal vein which drains into azygos vein.
Left 2nd-3rd form left superior intercostal vein which drains into left brachiocephalic vein.
Right 4th-11th drain into azygos vein.
Left 4th-8th drain into accessory hemiazygos vein.
Left 9th-11th drain into hemiazygos vein.
Nerves Anterior rami of spinal nerves T1-T11: intercostal nerves.

Well done!

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