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Aesthet Surg J. 2013 Jan;33(1):19-23. doi: 10.1177/1090820X12469625.

Anatomical landmarks to avoid injury to the great auricular nerve during rhytidectomy.

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  • 1Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital/Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, New York, USA.



An estimated 116 086 facelifts were performed in 2011. Regardless of the technique employed, facial flap elevation carries with it anatomical pitfalls of which any surgeon performing these procedures should be aware. Injury to the great auricular nerve (GAN) is the most common of these injuries, occurring at a rate of 6% to 7%.


We report our findings on the location of the GAN on the basis of anatomical landmarks to aid surgeons with planning their surgical approach for safe elevation of rhytidectomy skin flaps in the lateral neck region.


Sixteen fresh cadaveric heads were dissected under loupe magnification. All specimens were dissected in a 45-degree (facelift) position in which a mid-sternocleidomastoid (SCM) incision was used for exposure. Measurements from the bony mastoid process, bony external auditory canal, external jugular vein, and anterior border of the SCM to the GAN were taken in each cadaver.


The GAN follows a consistent course over the mid-body of the SCM before bifurcating into anterior and posterior branches and terminal arborization. Regardless of the length of the SCM, the GAN at its most superficial location was found to be consistently at a ratio of one-third the distance from either the mastoid process or the external auditory canal to the clavicular origin of the SCM.


Knowledge of the anatomy, course, and location of the GAN along the surface of SCM muscle based on anatomic landmarks and distance ratios can facilitate a safer dissection in the lateral neck during rhytidectomy procedures.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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