Thoracic splanchnic nerves

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 13 Dec 2022

The thoracic splanchnic nerves are three paired autonomic nerves that provide sympathetic innervation of the abdominopelvic viscera and vessels. They contain efferent and afferent fibers.

Three pairs of thoracic splanchnic nerves arise from the T5 to T12 sympathetic ganglia.

  • origin: T10 and T11 sympathetic ganglia (medial visceral branches)

  • course

    • descends on the lateral surface of the lower thoracic vertebral bodies

    • enters the abdomen through the inferior fibers of the crus of the diaphragm or through beneath the medial arcuate ligament

    • terminates in the aorticorenal ganglia

  • branches and supply

    • may give off small branches to the celiac ganglia

    • contributes to the aorticorenal ganglia

  • relations

    • posterior: vertebral bodies, posterior intercostal vessels, crus of the diaphragm

    • anteromedial: greater splanchnic nerve, descending aorta (left) or esophagus (right), azygos (right) or hemiazygos vein (left)

    • lateral: vertebral pleura and lung

  • origin: T11 and/or T12 sympathetic ganglia (medial visceral branches)

  • course

    • descends on the lateral surface of the lower thoracic vertebral bodies

    • enters the abdomen medial to the sympathetic chain beneath the medial arcuate ligament

    • terminates in the renal ganglia

  • branches and supply

    • may give off small branches to the celiac and aorticorenal ganglia

    • contributes to the renal ganglia

  • relations

    • posterior: vertebral bodies, posterior intercostal vessels, crus of the diaphragm

    • anterior: posterior diaphragm

    • lateral: vertebral pleura and lung

The thoracic splanchnic nerves may have variable origins:

  • greater splanchnic nerve may arise from the T4 to T10 sympathetic ganglia or the T6 to T9 ganglia

  • lesser splanchnic nerve may arise from the T9 and T10 sympathetic ganglia

Occasionally the greater and least splanchnic nerves are fused as a single splanchnic nerve.

The term 'splanchnic' is derived from the Greek word σπλαγχνον (splanchnon) meaning 'the innards' 5,6.

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: sympathetic nerves (Gray's illustrations)
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  • Figure 2: sympathetic nerves (Gray's illustrations)
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  • Figure 3: sympathetic nerves (Gray's illustrations)
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