Greater occipital nerve

Dr Daniel J Bell and Dr Craig Hacking et al.

The greater occipital nerve is a cutaneous nerve, the thickest in the body, that innervates the skin from the upper neck, over the occiput, up to the vertex of the scalp 1-3

Gross anatomy


The greater occipital nerve arises from the medial branch of the dorsal ramus of C2 1-3. By contrast, the lesser occipital nerve arises from the ventral ramus of C2.


The greater occipital nerve emerges between axis (C2) and the obliquus capitis inferior muscle, hooking underneath the later and piercing semispinalis capitis (3 cm inferior and 1.5-2 cm lateral to the occipital protuberance) before ascending deep to trapezius fascia and eventually piercing trapezius (2.5 cm lateral to the occipital protuberance) 3. It continues to ascend to the occiput.

Branches and supply

It may divide into several branches before piercing trapezius. It supplies the skin over the occipital bone and the upper posterior neck.


The greater occipital nerve runs with the occipital artery in the apex of the posterior triangle 1-3.

Related pathology

Anatomy: Head and neck
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Article information

rID: 53440
System: Head & Neck
Section: Anatomy
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Greater occipital nerve (GON)

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: cervical plexus
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  • Diagram of the greater occipital nerve
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  • Perineural tumor spread along the greater occipital nerve
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