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Cervical plexus

Learning objectives:

This is study unit will enable you to:

  1. Understand the complex anatomy of the cervical plexus.
  2. List all of the nerves arising from this plexus.
  3. Name the structures supplied by these nerves.

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The cervical plexus is a nervous plexus formed by the anterior rami of the first four spinal nerves (C1-C4). It is located in the upper cervical region, deep to the sternocleidomastoid muscle and anterolateral to the levator scapulae and middle scalene muscles. 

The plexus consists of two main groups of nerve branches: muscular (deep) branches and cutaneous (superficial) branches. The muscular branches of the cervical plexus are located deep to the sensory branches. They supply some of the muscles of the neck, back and diaphragm. The cutaneous branches of the cervical plexus supply the skin of the neck, upper thorax, scalp and ear. 

The cervical plexus also provides contributions to the accessory and hypoglossal nerves (CN XI/XII), in addition to receiving fibers from the sympathetic trunk (via the superior cervical ganglion).

To learn more about the anatomy of the cervical plexus you can watch the video below.

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Key facts about the cervical plexus
Definition Nervous plexus formed by the anterior rami of the spinal nerves C1-C4.
Deep/muscular branches Spinal nerve C1 (via hypoglossal nerve): Thyrohyoid and geniohyoid muscles 
Ansa cervicalis (C1-C3):
Other infrahyoid muscles (omohyoid, sternohyoid and sternothyroid muscles)
Phrenic nerve (C3-C5):
Diaphragm (+ sensory innervation of the central tendon of the diaphragm and pericardium)
Segmental/muscular branches:
Rectus capitis anterior, rectus capitis lateralis, longus colli, longus capitis muscles
Superficial/cutaneous branches Lesser occipital nerve (C2): Skin of the neck and scalp posterior to the auricle of the ear
Great auricular nerve (C2-C3):
Skin over the parotid gland, posterior to the auricle and the mastoid area
Transverse cervical nerve (C2-C3):
Anterior and lateral parts of the neck
Supraclavicular nerves (C3-C4):
Shoulder and clavicular regions

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