A thorough understanding of the topographical anatomy of the spinal accessory nerve and the cervical plexus branches is a basic prerequisite for positive results when operating on the neck.
To give an exact description of the topographical and surgical anatomy of the spinal accessory nerve (SAN) and the trapezius branches of the cervical plexus.
Anatomic analysis of the SAN and the trapezius branches of the cervical plexus.
The topographical anatomy of the SAN and the cervical plexus branches were studied in the anterior and posterior triangles of the necks of 46 perfusion-fixed human cadavers of both sexes, which ranged in age from 55 to 97 years (mean age, 83 years).
The SAN can be identified on the posterior border of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle, 8.2 + 1.01 cm cranial to the clavicle. In 37% of cases, the SAN enters the posterior triangle of the neck dorsal to the SCM muscle, where it passes through the muscle in 63% of these cases. In the anterior triangle of the neck, the SAN crosses the internal jugular vein ventrally in 56% of the cases and dorsally in 44%. Regarding the cervical plexus, 1 trapezius branch could be found in 9% of the specimens, 2 in 61%, and 3 in 30%. None of the branches merged with the SAN medial to the anterior border of the trapezius muscle. In most cases, a tiny additional branch could be found arising from the SAN about 2 cm medial to the trapezius muscle. This branch enters the descendant part of the muscle approximately 2 to 3 cm cranial to the main nerve.
Surprisingly, available data on topographical as well as surgical anatomy of the SAN and the trapezius branches of the cervical plexus are confusing and often wrong. The descriptions given herein can help to minimize the risk of injuring the SAN during neck surgery and preserve the additional innervation of the trapezius muscle granted by the rami trapezii of the cervical plexus.