A branch of the external carotid, the occipital artery begins in the neck and runs to the back of the head. It conveys oxygenated blood to many regions. This includes the scalp on the back of the head, as well as muscles related to the sternomastoid. 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 vein. The artery has many offshoots, including the auricular, mastoid, and descending branches. Two sternocliedomastoid branches occur near the carotid triangle. One branch runs with 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 deoxygenated blood away portions of the head and neck. The vein arises from a plexus, and for part of its course runs close to the occipital artery. Blood then flows to the suboccipital venous plexus, before ultimately returning to the heart and lungs.
Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
In Depth: Occipital artery