Occipital artery

Last revised by William Howden on 28 Mar 2023

The occipital artery is a branch of the external carotid artery in the neck. It sweeps an oblique posterosuperior course under the skull base to supply regions of the upper neck, occiput and posterior fossa.

Summary

  • origin: posterior from the proximal external carotid artery

  • termination: posterior neck, occiput and as high as the vertex

  • branches:

    • lower sternocleidomastoid

    • upper sternocleidomastoid

    • auricular

    • meningeal

    • descending

    • occipital

  • relations: crossed by the hypoglossal nerve proximally. Accompanied by the greater occipital nerve distally.

Gross anatomy

Origin

The occipital artery branches posteriorly from the external carotid artery approximately 2cm distal to the carotid bifurcation, opposite the facial artery. It rarely shares a common trunk with the ascending pharyngeal or posterior auricular artery 1.

Termination

Over the posterior scalp of the occipital bone and as high as the vertex.

Course

The artery courses obliquely between the posterior belly of digastric muscle and the internal jugular vein. It then turns medial towards the mastoid process, passing between the transverse process of C2 and the mastoid process. It courses through the occipital groove (if present), medial to the digastric notch of the mastoid process. Accompanied by the greater occipital nerve, it turns superiorly to pierce the investing layer of deep cervical fascia between the muscles at the apex of the posterior triangle. The artery takes a tortuous ascent through the superficial connective tissue of the scalp to the vertex, giving off several branches (below), many of which anastomose with other branches of the external carotid and the vertebral artery. The meningeal branch may enter the posterior cranial fossa via the jugular foramen or the condylar canal 1-3.  

Branches
  • lower sternocleidomastoid (close to its origin)

  • upper sternocleidomastoid

  • auricular

  • meningeal

  • descending

  • occipital

Relations

The artery is crossed from deep to superficial by the hypoglossal nerve at its origin. The distal portion accompanied by the greater occipital nerve.

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Cases and figures

  • Schematic : branches of the external carotid artery
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  • Schematic : branches of the carotid
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