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Occipital Artery
Cardiovascular System

Occipital Artery

Arteria occipitalis

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Quick Facts

Origin: External carotid artery.

Course: Travels posterosuperiorly, deep to the posterior belly of digastric muscle, passes between the mastoid process and transverse process of the atlas and passes in the occipital groove of the temporal bone. Finally, it ascends in the superficial fascia of the scalp.

Branches: Sternocleidomastoid, descending, auricular, and mastoid branches.

Supplied Structures: Muscles of the neck and scalp, meninges, pinna of the ear, and mastoid air cells.

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Origin

The occipital artery arises from the posterior aspect of the external carotid artery. In some cases, it may arise as a common trunk with the posterior auricular artery in 14% of individuals as the occipitoauricular trunk (Tubbs et al, 2016).

Course

At its origin, the occipital artery is crossed superficially by the hypoglossal nerve. It courses posteriorly and superiorly, deep to the posterior belly of the digastric muscle. It crosses the internal carotid artery and internal jugular vein, as well as the vagus and accessory nerves.

The occipital artery passes between the transverse process of the atlas (C1) and the mastoid process of the temporal bone. It then passes in the occipital groove of the temporal bone, medial to the mastoid process and the attachment sites of many muscles, including the sternocleidomastoid, splenius capitis, longissimus capitis, and digastric muscles. Here, it is joined by the greater occipital nerve. It pierces the investing layer of deep cervical fascia and ascends in the dense superficial fascia of the scalp in a tortuous fashion.

Branches

The upper and lower sternocleidomastoid branches are considered the main branches of the occipital artery. The lower sternocleidomastoid branch arises close to the origin of the occipital artery, and in some cases, may arise directly from the external carotid artery. The upper sternocleidomastoid branch arises at the point where the occipital artery crosses the accessory nerve.

Additionally, between skin of the scalp and occipital belly of occipitofrontalis, the occipital artery divides into many branches, including descending, auricular, and mastoid branches. The terminal branches of the occipital artery anastomose with its fellow on the opposite side, as well as with the posterior auricular, superficial temporal arteries, transverse cervical branch of the subclavian artery.

Supplied Structures

The occipital artery supplies some muscles of the neck and scalp, including sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, and deep muscles of the neck. Additionally, it provides arterial branches to the meninges, pinna of the ear, and mastoid air cells.

References

Tubbs, R. S., Shoja, M. M. & Loukas, M. (2016) Bergman's Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variation. Wiley.

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Occipital Artery

ScienceDirect image

The occipital artery at the level of the posterior border of the upper insertion of the longissimus capitis muscle courses in the upper part of the space between the occipital bone and C1 and lateral to the rectus capitis posterior major and semispinalis capitis muscle.

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