A branch of the external carotid, the occipital artery begins in the neck and runs to the back of the head. It transports oxygenated blood to many regions. This includes the scalp on the back of the head, as well as muscles adjacent to the sternomastoid, a muscle on the side of the neck. It also services other muscular tissues in the neck and back.
In the course of its path, the artery crosses the internal carotid and the internal jugular veins. The artery has many branches, including the auricular, mastoid, and descending branches. Two sternocleidomastoid branches occur near the carotid triangle, an area in the upper neck. One branch runs with the accessory nerve and the other arises near the occipital artery's origination point.
The occipital artery should not be mistaken for the occipital vein, which assists in draining oxygen-depleted blood away portions of the head and neck.