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The innervation of the head and neck 

The innervation of the head and neck
The innervation of the head and neck

Bernard J. Moxham

and Barry K.B. Berkovitz

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date: 27 October 2021

The distinguished anatomist and zoologist, J.Z. Young, in his account of the evolution of the vertebrate head and neck (cephalization), suggested that the initial location of the head from a creature with repeated body segments (e.g. an earthworm-like animal) was merely related to the opening of the gut, the mouth, at one end of the creature as it moved forward. At about the same time, organs of special sense would evolve around the mouth so that the animal could better find, and select, its food and consequently the front end of the neural tube would evolve into a brain in order to ‘analyse’ the information received from these organs of special sense. In evolutionary terms, therefore, the mouth is the primary organ of the head; the special senses are secondary and the brain tertiary. This is all reflected in understanding the functions of the human head and neck. The primary function is metabolic, being concerned with the selection and ingestion of food and with respiration through the nose (a derivative of the foregut) and mouth. The head, having a very complex array of special senses and peripheral nerves, also functions overall as an ‘analyser’ of the external environment and as a means of recognizing other creatures (both friend and foe). Given these functions it is therefore not surprising that the mouth is so important biologically and physiologically, that it is associated with a complex sensory and motor innervation, and that clinically the treatment of the face, jaws, and mouth requires a thorough-going knowledge of the complex innervation.

This chapter serves as an ‘introduction’ to the peripheral nervous system of the head and neck in order to provide essentially background information preparatory to a more detailed perspective in relation to clinical situations in subsequent chapters. Specialist reference texts should be consulted if further detail is required.

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