In-Depth Look at the Anatomical Relationship of the Lesser Occipital Nerve, Great Auricular Nerve, and Spinal Accessory Nerve and Their Implication in Safety of Operations in the Posterior Triangle of the Neck

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2020 Sep;146(3):509-514. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000007049.


Background: Migraine surgery is an increasingly popular treatment option for migraine patients. The lesser occipital nerve is a common trigger point for headache abnormalities, but there is a paucity of research regarding the lesser occipital nerve and its intimate association with the spinal accessory nerve.

Methods: Six cadaver necks were dissected. The lesser occipital, great auricular, and spinal accessory nerves were identified and systematically measured and recorded. These landmarks included the longitudinal axis (vertical line drawn in the posterior), the horizontal axis (defined as a line between the most anterosuperior points of the external auditory canals) and the earlobe. Mean distances and standard deviations were calculated to delineate the relationship between the spinal accessory, lesser occipital, and great auricular nerves.

Results: The point of emergence of the spinal accessory nerve was determined to be 7.17 ± 1.15 cm lateral to the y axis and 7.77 ± 1.10 caudal to the x axis. The lesser occipital nerve emerges 7.5 ± 1.31 cm lateral to the y axis and 8.47 ± 1.11 cm caudal to the x axis. The great auricular nerve emerges 8.33 ± 1.31 cm lateral to the y axis and 9.4 ±1.07 cm caudal to the x axis. The decussation of the spinal accessory and the lesser occipital nerves was found to be 7.70 ± 1.16 cm caudal to the x axis and 7.17 ± 1.15 lateral to the y axis.

Conclusion: Understanding the close relationship between the lesser occipital nerve and spinal accessory nerve in the posterior, lateral neck area is crucial for a safer approach to occipital migraine headaches, occipital neuralgia, and new daily persistent headaches and other reconstructive or cosmetic operations.

MeSH terms

  • Accessory Nerve / anatomy & histology*
  • Accessory Nerve / surgery
  • Cadaver
  • Cervical Plexus / anatomy & histology*
  • Cervical Plexus / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis
  • Migraine Disorders / surgery*
  • Neck / innervation*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods*