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Blood vessels of the spinal cord

Learning objectives

Upon completing this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Identify the main arteries of the spinal cord.
  2. Locate the supply region of each artery of the spinal cord.
  3. Understand the venous drainage pathway of the spinal cord.

Watch video

The spinal cord receives its main arterial supply from the vertebral arteries. The vertebral artery arises from the subclavian artery and gives off three branches for the spinal cord: a single anterior spinal and two posterior spinal arteries. These branches pass longitudinally along the anterior and posterior aspect of the spinal cord, respectively, and are thus deemed as longitudinal vessels.

The spinal cord receives additional arterial supply from segmental spinal arteries that arise in a craniocaudal sequence from the spinal branches of vertebral, deep cervical, posterior intercostal and lumbar arteries. These branches pass through the intervertebral foramina and split into anterior and posterior radicular branches that pass along the anterior and posterior roots, respectively. At some levels of the spinal cord, some radicular arteries give rise to segmental medullary arteries that anastomose with the longitudinal vessels.

Venous blood from the spinal cord is largely drained via a single anterior spinal vein and a single posterior spinal vein, which, in turn, drain into the internal vertebral plexus found in the epidural space. The blood from the internal vertebral plexus continues to drain into the external vertebral plexus, and finally empties into systemic veins of the caval and azygos systems, depending on the location.

Watch the following video to learn more about the blood vessels of the spinal cord.

Take a quiz

Put your knowledge to the test and consolidate what you’ve learned with our quiz tailored with questions about the blood vessels of the spinal cord!

Did you know that you can create your own quiz? In the link below you’ll find the preset for a quiz about the anatomy of the spinal cord. Go ahead and modify it how you wish to fit your learning needs!

Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the blood vessels of the spinal cord in the gallery below. 

Main blood vessels of the spinal cord
Arteries Longitudinal arteries (arise from vertebral artery):
Anterior spinal artery
Posterior spinal artery (2x)

Segmental arteries
(arise from vertebral, deep cervical, posterior intercostal and lumbar arteries):
Spinal branches → Anterior and posterior radicular arteries → Segmental medullary arteries

Arterial vasocorona
Anastomosis between the anterior posterior spinal arteries
Arterial supply Anterior spinal artery: Anterior 2/3 of the spinal cord

Posterior spinal arteries
: Posterior 1/3 of the spinal cord

Radicular arteries
: Entire length of spinal cord, spinal nerve roots, anterior and posterior spinal arteries

Arterial vasocorona
: Spinal meninges and lateral surface of spinal cord
Veins Intramedullary venous plexus → coronal plexus (longitudinal veins) anterior and posterior radicular veins (segmental veins) → anterior and posterior internal vertebral plexus → intervertebral veins → anterior and posterior external vertebral plexus → systemic veins

Well done!

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