Internal jugular veins are the major cerebral venous outflow pathway in supine humans. In upright humans the positioning of these veins above heart level causes them to collapse. An alternative cerebral outflow pathway is the vertebral venous plexus. We set out to determine the effect of posture and central venous pressure (CVP) on the distribution of cerebral outflow over the internal jugular veins and the vertebral plexus, using a mathematical model. Input to the model was a data set of beat-to-beat cerebral blood flow velocity and CVP measurements in 10 healthy subjects, during baseline rest and a Valsalva manoeuvre in the supine and standing position. The model, consisting of 2 jugular veins, each a chain of 10 units containing nonlinear resistances and capacitors, and a vertebral plexus containing a resistance, showed blood flow mainly through the internal jugular veins in the supine position, but mainly through the vertebral plexus in the upright position. A Valsalva manoeuvre while standing completely re-opened the jugular veins. Results of ultrasound imaging of the right internal jugular vein cross-sectional area at the level of the laryngeal prominence in six healthy subjects, before and during a Valsalva manoeuvre in both body positions, correlate highly with model simulation of the jugular cross-sectional area (R(2) = 0.97). The results suggest that the cerebral venous flow distribution depends on posture and CVP: in supine humans the internal jugular veins are the primary pathway. The internal jugular veins are collapsed in the standing position and blood is shunted to an alternative venous pathway, but a marked increase in CVP while standing completely re-opens the jugular veins.