Lesser occipital nerve

The lesser occipital nerve, also known as the small occipital nerve, is a cutaneous branch of the cervical plexus that innervates the skin of the neck and scalp posterior and superior to the auricle.

Gross anatomy

Origin

The lesser occipital nerve arises from the ventral ramus of C2, althought it often receives fibres from C3 as well.

Course

After branching from the ventral ramus of C2 the lesser occipital nerve hooks around the accessory nerve and emerges along the posterior aspect of the sternocleidomastoid muscle at the punctum nervosum (Erb’s point). The nerve then travels superiorly along the posterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. At the occiput the lesser occipital nerve pierces the deep fascia and arborises. The terminal branches of the lesser occipital nerve communicates with lateral branches of the greater auricular nerve.

Branches and supply
Relations

The lesser occipital nerve can be identified easily along the posterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. It should be noted that the sensory fibres of C1 provide a branch to the meninges.

Along with the other cutaneous branches of the cervical plexus the lesser occipital nerve passes posterior to the sternocleidomastoid muscle at the punctum nervosum (Erb’s point) roughly midway between the origin and insertion of the muscle.

Related pathology

The lesser occipital nerve is implicated in occipital neuralgia along with the greater occipital nerve, both of which are derived from the C2 nerve root. It is also postulated that the lesser occipital nerve is often involved in atypical headaches and migraines.


Head and neck anatomy
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Article Information

rID: 38007
System: Head & Neck
Section: Anatomy
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Small occipital nerve

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Cases and Figures

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    Figure 1: lesser occipital nerve
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    Figure 2: cervical plexus labelled
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