Introduction to the Triangles of the Neck

The human neck is a complex region. It houses vital structures like the windpipe (trachea), food pipe (esophagus), major blood vessels, and nerves. To better understand this intricate area, anatomists have divided it into several triangles. Each is defined by its unique set of boundaries and contains specific anatomical structures. In this article, we’ll delve into the two main triangles of the neck: the anterior triangle and the posterior triangle. We will explore the boundaries, contents, and clinical relevance of each triangle.

Triangle of Woman’s Neck

Let’s discuss the Anterior Triangle and its various structures.

Anterior Triangle

The human neck is a remarkable region with a complex anatomy, housing vital structures responsible for various physiological functions. The anterior triangle of the neck is a critical area within this region. It is characterized by its unique subdivisions, boundaries, and the presence of numerous structures. Let’s discuss all the structures like borders, veins, arteries, and vice versa.


Subdivisions of the Anterior Triangle

The anterior triangle can be subdivided into smaller regions:

  1. Submental Triangle: Located beneath the chin, bounded by the anterior belly of the digastric muscle and the midline of the neck.
  2. Submandibular Triangle: The triangle is positioned below the mandible. It is bordered by the anterior and posterior bellies of the digastric muscle and the inferior border of the mandible.
  3. Carotid Triangle: Situated between the sternocleidomastoid muscle, omohyoid muscle, and anterior border of the trapezius muscle. This triangle contains important structures such as the carotid artery and internal jugular vein.

Borders of the Anterior Triangle

The borders of the anterior triangle are as follows:

  1. Superior Border: The inferior border of the mandible.
  2. Anterior Border: The midline of the neck.
  3. Posterior Border: The anterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Muscles within the Anterior Triangle

Here are some of the key muscles within the anterior triangle:

  1. Suprahyoid Muscles: Muscles located above the hyoid bone, including the digastric, mylohyoid, stylohyoid, and geniohyoid muscles.
  2. Infrahyoid Muscles: Muscles located below the hyoid bone, including the sternohyoid, sternothyroid, omohyoid, and thyrohyoid muscles.

Veins within the Anterior Triangle

Some of the major veins within the anterior triangle include:

  1. Internal Jugular Vein: Drains blood from the brain, face, and neck, running alongside the common carotid artery.
  2. Facial Vein: Drains blood from the face and connects with the internal jugular vein.
Arteries in the Triangle

Arteries within the Anterior Triangle

Some of the major arteries within the anterior triangle include:

  1. Common Carotid Artery: Branches into the internal and external carotid arteries, supplying blood to the brain and neck structures.
  2. External Carotid Artery: Supplies blood to the face and neck.
  3. Facial Artery: Branches from the external carotid artery, providing blood to the face.

Nerves within the Anterior Triangle

Some of the important nerves found within the anterior triangle include:

  1. Hypoglossal Nerve (CN XII): Innervates the muscles of the tongue and is located within the carotid triangle.
  2. Vagus Nerve (CN X): Provides parasympathetic innervation to the viscera and travels through the carotid triangle.

Organs within the Anterior Triangle

Some of the key organs and structures within the anterior triangle of the neck include:

  1. Thyroid Gland: Located just below the thyroid cartilage of the larynx, it plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism.
  2. Larynx: Contains the vocal cords and is integral for speech production and breathing.
Thyroid and parathyroid gland

In the upcoming part, we will discuss the Posterior Triangle, and its various structures like nerves, muscles, and vice versa.

Posterior Triangle

The posterior triangle is a crucial anatomical region located in the neck. It is formed by the sternocleidomastoid muscle anteriorly, the trapezius muscle posteriorly, and the clavicle inferiorly. This area is essential as it houses several structures vital to the functioning of the upper extremities and the head. Let’s delve deeper into each aspect:

Posterior Triangle

Subdivisions of the Posterior Triangle

The posterior triangle can be further divided into two smaller triangles:

  1. Occipital Triangle: Bound by the posterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, superior nuchal line, and anterior border of the trapezius muscle. It houses the accessory nerve (cranial nerve XI) and the occipital artery.
  2. Subclavian Triangle: Formed by the posterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the clavicle, and the anterior border of the trapezius muscle. Key structures in this region include the subclavian artery and the brachial plexus divisions.

Borders of the Posterior Triangle

The posterior triangle is bordered by two major muscles:

  1. Sternocleidomastoid Muscle: This large, superficial muscle divides the anterior border of the posterior triangle. Its posterior border is a key landmark in neck surgery.
  2. Trapezius Muscle: The trapezius forms the posterior border of the triangle. It is a flat, triangular muscle responsible for various movements of the shoulder and neck.

Blood Vessels in the Posterior Triangle

Several important blood vessels traverse the posterior triangle:

  1. Subclavian Artery: The third part of the subclavian artery passes through the subclavian triangle. It gives rise to branches such as the vertebral artery and the thyrocervical trunk.
  2. Occipital Artery: This artery arises from the external carotid artery and runs through the occipital triangle. It supplies blood to the scalp.

Nerves in the Posterior Triangle

Nerves within the posterior triangle include:

  1. Accessory Nerve (Cranial Nerve XI): The accessory nerve innervates the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles, controlling head and shoulder movements. It is particularly vulnerable to injury during surgical procedures in this region.
  2. Brachial Plexus Divisions: The divisions of the brachial plexus, responsible for innervating the upper limb, pass through the subclavian triangle.

Veins in the Posterior Triangle

Within the posterior triangle of the neck, several veins are of significant importance. The most prominent of these is the external jugular vein. It often stands out visibly on the surface of the neck. It collects blood from various areas of the scalp and face and drains it into the subclavian vein. This vein is especially vital in regulating temperature and maintaining proper circulation in the head and neck.

The posterior triangle also houses other smaller veins, such as the posterior external jugular vein and the transverse cervical veins. These veins contribute to the drainage of the neck region and are integral to the overall vascular system.

Muscles in the Posterior Triangle

Muscles in this region are essential for maintaining proper head and neck movement, as well as providing structural support. Two significant muscles located in this area are:

  1. Trapezius Muscle: It is a large, flat muscle that covers the upper back and extends into the posterior triangle of the neck. It helps in movements like shrugging the shoulders and tilting or turning the head. Additionally, the trapezius muscle contributes to the maintenance of proper posture.
  2. Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Muscle: The sternocleidomastoid muscle is a paired muscle that runs diagonally across the neck. It is responsible for flexing the neck forward and rotating it to the opposite side when acting unilaterally. When both SCM muscles contract simultaneously, they help to flex the neck forward.

These muscles are essential for everyday activities, including head movement. They are often examined during physical exams to assess neck strength and function.

Organs in the Posterior Triangle

While the posterior triangle is primarily known for its veins and muscles. It also contains some critical anatomical structures:

  1. Brachial Plexus: The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that originates in the neck region and extends down the arm. It plays a pivotal role in controlling the muscles and transmitting sensory signals to the upper limb. Injury or compression can lead to weakness or sensory disturbances in the arm.
  2. Lymph Nodes: Various lymph nodes are scattered throughout the posterior triangle of the neck. These nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which is essential for immune function. They help filter and trap pathogens and foreign materials. Thus aiding in the body’s defense against infections.

In the upcoming part, we will understand the Clinical issues in the triangles of the neck.


Clinical Conditions in the Neck Triangles

Clinical conditions in the neck triangle can vary depending on which triangle is affected. Here are some clinical conditions that can occur in different neck triangles:

  1. Abscesses: An abscess in the neck is a localized collection of pus. It can occur in various areas of the neck, often as a result of a bacterial infection. It typically presents with swelling, redness, and pain in the affected area. Common causes include dental infections, tonsillitis, or infected lymph nodes. Treatment involves antibiotics and, in some cases, drainage of the abscess.
  2. Thyroid Disorders: Thyroid disorders refer to a group of conditions that affect the thyroid gland. It is located in the neck and regulates metabolism. Common thyroid disorders include hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Symptoms can vary but may include fatigue, weight changes, and mood disturbances. Management often involves medication, lifestyle changes, or, in severe cases, surgical intervention.
  3. Tumors in the Neck: Neck tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous) growths. It develops in various tissues of the neck, such as the thyroid, salivary glands, or lymph nodes. Symptoms may include a lump or mass, pain, difficulty swallowing, or voice changes. Treatment depends on the type and stage of the tumor, ranging from surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination.
  4. Submandibular Gland Disorders: The submandibular glands are major salivary glands located beneath the lower jaw. Disorders of these glands can include infections (sialadenitis), stones (sialolithiasis), or tumors. Symptoms may involve pain and swelling in the affected area, especially while eating. Treatment varies based on the specific condition, but it can include antibiotics, salivary gland stone removal, or surgery.
  5. Lymphadenopathy: Lymphadenopathy refers to the enlargement of lymph nodes. They are small, bean-shaped structures that play a crucial role in the immune system. It can occur due to infections, inflammation, or malignancies, among other causes. Diagnosis involves a medical evaluation and may require imaging or biopsy. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and can include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, or cancer treatments.
  6. Cervical Lymphadenitis: Cervical lymphadenitis specifically involves the inflammation of lymph nodes in the neck. It often occurs as a response to an infection in the head, neck, or upper respiratory tract. Symptoms include swollen and tender lymph nodes, fever, and sore throat. Treatment focuses on addressing the underlying infection with antibiotics and supportive care.
  7. Carotid artery stenosis: It refers to the narrowing of both of the carotid arteries in the neck, which supply blood to the brain. This condition can increase the risk of stroke by reducing blood flow to the brain. Treatment options may include medication to manage risk factors (like high blood pressure and cholesterol). Or surgical interventions like carotid endarterectomy or stenting to widen the narrowed artery.


In conclusion, the triangles of the neck are critical anatomical regions. They house a complex network of structures, including muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and organs. The anterior triangle, its subdivisions and boundaries, contains vital components such as the thyroid gland, carotid artery, and various nerves. In contrast, the posterior triangle is bounded by the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles. It is home to essential structures like the subclavian artery and the accessory nerve.

Understanding the anatomy of these neck triangles is indispensable for healthcare professionals, particularly surgeons. It plays a pivotal role in diagnosing and treating a wide range of clinical conditions.

In summary, the anatomy and clinical significance of the neck triangles underscores their importance in the field of medicine. They highlight the need for an understanding of these regions. In order, to provide effective care and treatment for patients with neck-related health concerns.

Further Reading

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  3. Olek Remesz (wiki-pl: Orem, commons: Orem) Modified by user:madhero88, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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  5. Sven Teschke , CC BY-SA 2.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons
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