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Lymphatics of the head and neck

Learning objectives

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

  1. Name and locate the main groups of lymph nodes which drain the head and neck. 
  2. Describe the typical drainage pattern of lymph from the head and neck.

Browse atlas

Lymphatic structures of the head and neck can generally be divided into two groups:

  1. Superficial lymph nodes and vessels 
  2. Deep lymph nodes and vessels

At the junction between the head and neck are a group of lymph nodes which constitute the pericervical lymphatic circle. These nodes receive lymph from superficial tissues of the head and drain to either the superficial or deep lymph nodes of the neck.

The lymph nodes of the neck can be divided into anterior and lateral groups. Receiving lymph from the thyroid gland, trachea, larynx and infrahyoid region of the neck are the superficial and deep anterior cervical lymph nodes. The superficial anterior cervical nodes are intercalated along the anterior jugular vein while the deep anterior cervical nodes are located along the larynx, thyroid gland and trachea. 

The superficial and deep lateral cervical lymph nodes are intercalated along the length of the internal and external jugular veins. They receive lymph from the head and neck either directly from the superficial vessels of the head or from the anterior cervical nodes. Efferent vessels from the lateral cervical nodes form right and left jugular trunks which empty into the collecting right lymphatic and thoracic ducts (left) at the jugulosubclavian junction. 

Explore the lymphatic structures of the head and neck in the galleries below.

Take a quiz

Complete this quiz to test your knowledge on the lymphatic structures of the head and neck.

Do you want to make your own personalized quiz on the neurovasculature and lymphatic drainage of the head and neck? Well you can! All you have to do is click on the custom quiz. 


Key points about the lymphatics of the head and neck
Facial lymph nodes Buccinator, nasolabial, malar and mandibular lymph nodes
Pericervical lymphatic circle
Occipital, mastoid, parotid (superficial and deep), submandibular and submental lymph nodes
Anterior cervical lymph nodes Superficial anterior cervical lymph nodes

Deep anterior cervical lymph nodes (prelaryngeal, thyroid, pretracheal and paratracheal lymph nodes)
Lateral cervical lymph nodes Superficial lateral cervical lymph nodes

Deep lateral cervical lymph nodes (superior and inferior deep lateral cervical lymph nodes)

Accessory lymph nodes

Supraclavicular lymph nodes
Pharyngeal lymphoid ring and nodes Pharyngeal lymphoid ring (pharyngeal, lingual, palatine and tubal tonsils)
Retropharyngeal lymph nodes
Lymphatic trunk and ducts Jugular trunk
Right lymphatic duct
Thoracic duct

Well done!

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