Harvesting the occipital artery (OA) is challenging. The subcutaneous OA is usually found near the superior nuchal line and followed proximally, requiring a large incision and risking damage to the superficially located OA. The authors assessed the anatomical feasibility and safety of exposing the OA through a retromastoid-transmuscular approach.
Using 10 cadaveric heads, 20 OAs were harvested though a 5-cm retroauricular incision placed 5 cm posterior to the external auditory meatus. The underlying muscle layers were sequentially cut and recorded before exposing the OA. Changes in the orientation of muscle fibers were used as a roadmap to expose the OA without damaging it.
The suboccipital segment of the OA was exposed without damage after incising two consecutive layers of muscles and their investing fasciae. These muscles displayed different fiber directions: the superficially located sternocleidomastoid muscle with vertically oriented fibers, and the underlying splenius capitis with anteroposteriorly (and mediolaterally) oriented fibers. The OA could be harvested along the entire length of the skin incision in all specimens. If needed, the incision can be extended proximally and/or distally to follow the OA and harvest greater lengths.
This transmuscular technique for identification of the OA is a reliable method and may facilitate exposure and protection of the OA during a retrosigmoid approach. This technique may obviate the need for larger incisions when planning a bypass to nearby arteries in the posterior circulation via a retrosigmoid craniotomy. Additionally, the small skin incision can be enlarged when a different craniotomy and/or bypass is planned or when a greater length of the OA is needed to be harvested.