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Nerves of the face and scalp

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Name the main nerves responsible for the sensory and motor innervation of the face and scalp.
  2. List the branches of the motor nerves and identify the muscles of the face they innervate.
  3. Identify the nerves that are responsible for sensory innervation of the dermatomes (or regions) of the face and scalp.

Watch videos

The nerves responsible for the motor innervation of the face and scalp originate mainly from the facial nerve (CN VII). The facial nerve gives rise to the posterior auricular nerve, as well as five terminal groups of branches that innervate the muscles of facial expression.

The sensory innervation of the face and scalp occurs mainly through branches of the trigeminal nerve (CN V). This large cranial nerve divides into three branches, the ophthalmic (CN V1), maxillary (CN V2) and mandibular (CN V3) nerves. These are responsible for the sensory innervation of three distinct dermatomes on the face, with the mandibular nerve (CN V3) also carrying additional motor fibers to the muscles of mastication.

The skin of the scalp anterior to the ears is innervated by branches of the trigeminal nerve, while the posterior scalp is supplied by branches arising from the upper cervical spinal nerves. These include the great auricular and lesser occipital nerves (which arise from the cervical plexus), as well as the greater and third occipital nerves.

Watch the following video to learn more about these nerves, their numerous branches and the areas of the face and scalp they supply:

Take a quiz

Ready to put your newly acquired knowledge to the test? Do so with the quiz below:

Ready for a further challenge? Why not try the following customizable quiz on the anatomy of the entire head and neck!

Browse atlas

Take a closer look at each of the individual nerves in the atlas gallery below:


Key points about the motor innervation of the face and scalp
Facial nerve (CN VII) Branches: Posterior auricular nerve, temporal branches, zygomatic branches, buccal branches, marginal mandibular branch, cervical branch
: Muscles of facial expression
Mandibular nerve (V3) Branches: Motor branches
: Muscles of mastication
Key points about the sensory innervation of the face and scalp
Ophthalmic nerve (V1) Branches: Supraorbital nerve, supratrochlear nerve, external nasal branch of anterior ethmoidal nerve, infratrochlear nerve, lacrimal nerve
: Anterior scalp, forehead, upper eyelid, conjunctiva and nose
Maxillary nerve (V2) Branches: Infraorbital nerve, zygomaticofacial nerve, zygomaticotemporal nerve
: Area over the zygomatic bone, anterior temple, lower eyelid, side of the nose and upper lip
Mandibular nerve (V3) Branches: Auriculotemporal nerve, buccal nerve, mental nerve
: Temple, external acoustic meatus, tympanic membrane, buccinator muscle, lower lip and chin
Spinal nerves C2/C3 Branches: Great auricular nerve (C2/C3), lesser occipital nerve (C2) (via cervical plexus); greater occipital nerve, third occipital nerve (posterior ramus spinal nerve C2)
: Skin of the posterior scalp

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