Anatomy of the lymphatics of the neck


Whenever we go to the doctor's office with what we think is a respiratory infection, they will often feel for ‘nodes’ in the neck.

What they are feeling for are the lymph nodes in our neck, which drain the head and neck, and become enlarged when there is an infection.

Enlarged lymph nodes can also indicate other clinical conditions such as cancers, so by understanding the anatomy of the lymph nodes in the neck and their drainage, this can help with clinical diagnosis!

So, the lymphatics of the head and neck can be divided in two groups: a superficial group of nodes and a vertical group of deep lymph nodes.

So, the superficial lymph nodes receive lymph from the scalp, face and neck.

There are 8 groups of superficial lymph nodes which extend from underneath the chin to the posterior aspect of the head and they are represented by the occipital, mastoid, preauricular, parotid, submental, submandibular, buccal and superficial cervical lymph nodes.

The occipital lymph nodes are located in the back of the head at the lateral border of the trapezius muscle and collect lymph from the occipital area of the scalp.

The mastoid lymph nodes are also called retroauricular lymph nodes and they are located posterior to the ear.

Specifically, they lie on the insertion of the SCM into the mastoid process, and they collect lymph from the posterior neck, upper ear and lateral scalp.

The preauricular lymph nodes are located anterior to the auricle of the ear and collect lymph from the superficial areas of the face and temporal region.

The parotid lymph nodes are located superficial to the parotid gland and collect lymph from the lateral side of the face and scalp.

The submental lymph nodes are located in the submental triangle superficial to the mylohyoid muscle and collect lymph from the chin and lower lip.

The submandibular lymph nodes are located below the mandible in the submandibular triangle and collect lymph from the face inferior to the eye and from the mouth.

The buccal lymph nodes collect lymph from the nose and cheek.

The superficial cervical lymph nodes are located close to the external and anterior jugular veins and collect lymph from the superficial surfaces of the anterior neck.