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Neurovasculature of the neck

Learning objectives 

After exploring this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the vascular supply and drainage of the neck. 
  2. Name the nerves which travel through and innervate structures of the neck.

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The neck is a complex thoroughfare for a large number of vessels and nerves which serve to supply, drain and innervate the head, neck, trunk and upper limb.

The main arterial structures of the neck are the carotid and vertebral arteries. The common carotid artery ascends through the neck bifurcating into the internal and external carotid arteries. The internal carotid artery ascends to provide anterior supply to structures of the cranial cavity while the external carotid artery branches to supply structures of the neck and face. Arising from the subclavian arteries at the root of the neck are the paired vertebral arteries which ascend through the transverse foramina of the upper six cervical vertebrae, to provide posterior supply to the cranial cavity. 

The primary venous channels of the neck are the internal, external and anterior jugular veins. Tributaries of these collecting veins largely follow a similar pattern to their fellow arteries. 

Numerous cranial and peripheral nerves pass through and supply structures of the neck. The cervical plexus, located at the superior portion of the neck, gives off several branches to supply cutaneous and muscular innervation to many structures of the neck as well as parts of the face, shoulder region and thorax. The trunks of brachial plexus also can be seen passing between the anterior and middle scalene muscles on their way to the axilla and upper limb. Cranial nerves of the neck include the glossopharyngeal  (CN IX), vagus  (CN X), accessory  (CN XI) and hypoglossal (CN XII) nerves

Find out more about the neurovasculature structures of the neck by watching the video below! 

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Browse atlas

Explore the arteries and veins of the neck from an anterior and lateral perspective in the gallery below!

Now let’s take a look at the nerves of the neck from an anterior and posterior view.


Key points about the cervical branches of the arteries of the neck
Brachiocephalic trunk/arch of aorta Subclavian arteries
Common carotid arteries (external and internal carotid arteries)
Thyroid ima artery
Subclavian artery Vertebral artery
Thyrocervical trunk (inferior thyroid artery, ascending cervical artery, transverse cervical artery, suprascapular artery)
Costocervical trunk (deep cervical artery)
External carotid artery Superior thyroid artery (superior laryngeal artery, infrahyoid, sternocleidomastoid, cricothyroid and glandular branches)
Ascending pharyngeal artery
Lingual artery (suprahyoid branch)
Facial artery
Occipital artery (sternocleidomastoid, descending and meningeal branches)
Key points about the cervical branches of the veins of the neck
External jugular vein Posterior division of retromandibular vein
Posterior auricular vein
Anterior jugular vein (jugular venous arch)
Suprascapular vein
Transverse cervical veins
Internal jugular vein Common facial vein (facial vein, anterior division of retromandibular vein)
Superior and inferior bulb of internal jugular vein
Pharyngeal venous plexus
Superior thyroid vein (superior laryngeal vein)
Lingual vein
Middle thyroid vein
Sternocleidomastoid vein
Vertebral vein Occipital vein
Anterior vertebral vein
Accessory vertebral vein
Subclavian vein External jugular vein
Brachiocephalic vein Formed by union of subclavian vein and internal jugular vein

Vertebral vein
Deep cervical vein
Inferior thyroid vein
Key points about the cervical branches of the nerves of the neck
Cervical plexus Superficial branches:
Lesser occipital nerve
Great auricular nerve
Transverse cervical nerve
Supraclavicular nerves
Deep branches:

Ansa cervicalis
Phrenic nerve
Cervical nerves (C1-C3) Suboccipital nerve
Greater occipital nerve
Third occipital nerve
Brachial plexus (supraclavicular part) Dorsal scapular nerve
Long thoracic nerve
Suprascapular nerve
Subclavian nerve
Accessory phrenic nerve
Cranial nerves Glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)
Vagus nerve (CN X) (superior laryngeal nerve, recurrent laryngeal nerve)
Accessory nerve (CN XI)
Hypoglossal nerve (CN XII)
Autonomic nerves Sympathetic trunk

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