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Arteries of the neck. The vertebral arteries arise from the subclavian arteries and join to form the basilar artery
The vertebral arteries usually arise from the posterosuperior aspect of the central subclavian arteries on each side of the body, then enter deep to the transverse process at the level of the 6th cervical vertebrae (C6), or occasionally (in 7.5% of cases) at the level of C7. They then proceed superiorly, in the transverse foramen of each cervical vertebra. Once they have passed through the transverse foramen of C1 (also known as the atlas), the vertebral arteries travel across the posterior arch of C1 and through the suboccipital triangle before entering the foramen magnum.
Nunziante Ippolito, a Neapolitan physician, identified the "angle of Nunziante Ippolito" to find the vertebral artery, between the anterior scalene muscle and the longus colli muscle.
The second (foraminal) part runs upward through the transverse foramina of the C6 to C2 vertebrae, and is surrounded by branches from the inferior cervical sympathetic ganglion and by a plexus of veins which unite to form the vertebral vein at the lower part of the neck. It is situated in front of the trunks of the cervical nerves, and pursues an almost vertical course as far as the transverse process of the axis.
The vertebral artery runs from base to apex (prior to entering the transverse foramen of 6th cervical vertebra).
The carotid tubercle separates the vertebral artery which passes directly behind it from the common carotid artery which lies directly in front of it. The ideal site for palpating the carotid pulse is to gently press the common carotid artery against the carotid tubercle.
There is commonly variations in the course and size of the vertebral arteries. For example, differences in size between left and right vertebral arteries may range from a slight asymmetry to marked hypoplasia of one side, with studies estimating a prevalence of unilateral vertebral artery hypoplasia between 2% to 25%. In 3-15% of the population, a bony bridge called the arcuate foramen covers the groove for the vertebral artery on vertebra C1. Rarely, the vertebral arteries enter the subarachnoid space at C1-C2 (3%) or C2-C3 (only three cases have been reported) vertebral levels instead of the atlanto-occipital level.