Occipital bone

Occipital bone
Human skull (Occipital bone is at bottom right).
Occipital bone lateral4.png
Position of occipital bone (shown in green)
Articulationsthe two parietals, the two temporals, the sphenoid, and the atlas
Latinos occipitale
Anatomical terms of bone

The occipital bone (əl/) is a cranial dermal bone, and is the main bone of the occiput (back and lower part of the skull). It is trapezoidal in shape and curved on itself like a shallow dish. The occipital bone overlies the occipital lobes of the cerebrum. At the base of skull in the occipital bone there is a large oval opening called the foramen magnum, which allows the passage of the spinal cord.

Like the other cranial bones it is classed as a flat bone. Due to its many attachments and features, the occipital bone is described in terms of separate parts. From its front to the back is the basilar part also called the basioccipital, at the sides of the foramen magnum are the lateral parts also called the exoccipitals, and the back is named as the squamous part.

The basilar part is a thick, somewhat quadrilateral piece in front of the foramen magnum and directed towards the pharynx.

The squamous part is the curved, expanded plate behind the foramen magnum and is the largest part of the occipital bone.


The occipital bone, like the other seven cranial bones, has outer and inner layers (also called plates or tables) of cortical bone tissue between which is the cancellous bone tissue known in the cranial bones as diploë. The bone is especially thick at the ridges, protuberances, condyles, and anterior part of the basilar part; in the inferior cerebellar fossae it is thin, semitransparent, and without diploë.

Outer surface

Outer surface of occipital bone

Near the middle of the outer surface of the squamous part of the occipital (the largest part) there is a prominence – the external occipital protuberance. The highest point of this is called the inion.

From the inion, along the midline of the squamous part until the foramen magnum, runs a ridge – the external occipital crest (also called the medial nuchal line) and this gives attachment to the nuchal ligament.

Running across the outside of the occipital bone are three curved lines and one line (the medial line) that runs down to the foramen magnum. These are known as the nuchal lines which give attachment to various ligaments and muscles. They are named as the highest, superior and inferior nuchal lines. The inferior nuchal line runs across the midpoint of the medial nuchal line. The area above the highest nuchal line is termed the occipital plane and the area below this line is termed the nuchal plane.

Inner surface

Inner surface of occipital bone

The inner surface of the occipital bone forms the base of the posterior cranial fossa. The foramen magnum is a large hole situated in the middle, with the clivus, a smooth part of the occipital bone travelling upwards in front of it. The median internal occipital crest travels behind it to the internal occipital protuberance, and serves as a point of attachment to the falx cerebri.

To the sides of the foramen sitting at the junction between the lateral and base of the occipital bone are the hypoglossal canals. Further out, at each junction between the occipital and petrous portion of the temporal bone lies a jugular foramen.[1]

The inner surface of the occipital bone is marked by dividing lines as shallow ridges, that form four fossae or depressions. The lines are called the cruciform (cross-shaped) eminence.

At the midpoint where the lines intersect a raised part is formed called the internal occipital protuberance. From each side of this eminence runs a groove for the transverse sinuses.

There are two midline skull landmarks at the foramen magnum. The basion is the most anterior point of the opening and the opisthion is the point on the opposite posterior part. The basion lines up with the dens.

Foramen magnum

The foramen magnum (Latin: large hole) is a large oval foramen longest front to back; it is wider behind than in front where it is encroached upon by the occipital condyles. The clivus, a smooth bony section, travels upwards on the front surface of the foramen, and the median internal occipital crest travels behind it.[2]

Through the foramen passes the medulla oblongata and its membranes, the accessory nerves, the vertebral arteries, the anterior and posterior spinal arteries, and the tectorial membrane and alar ligaments.


The superior angle of the occipital bone articulates with the occipital angles of the parietal bones and, in the fetal skull, corresponds in position with the posterior fontanelle.

The inferior angle is fused with the body of the sphenoid. The lateral angles are situated at the extremities of the groove for the transverse sinuses: each is received into the interval between the mastoid angle of the parietal and the mastoid part of the temporal.


The superior borders extend from the superior to the lateral angles: they are deeply serrated for articulation with the occipital borders of the parietals, and form by this union the lambdoidal suture.

The inferior borders extend from the lateral angles to the inferior angle; the upper half of each articulates with the mastoid portion of the corresponding temporal, the lower half with the petrous part of the same bone.

These two portions of the inferior border are separated from one another by the jugular process, the notch on the anterior surface of which forms the posterior part of the jugular foramen.


The lambdoid suture joins the occipital bone to the parietal bones.

The occipitomastoid suture joins the occipital bone and mastoid portion of the temporal bone.

Other Languages
العربية: عظم قذالي
azərbaycanca: Ənsə sümüyü
Bân-lâm-gú: Āu-thâu-kut
brezhoneg: Askorn kilpenn
català: Occipital
čeština: Týlní kost
dansk: Nakkeben
español: Hueso occipital
Esperanto: Okcipitalo
euskara: Garondo-hezur
français: Os occipital
한국어: 뒤통수뼈
hrvatski: Zatiljna kost
italiano: Osso occipitale
עברית: עצם העורף
kaszëbsczi: Tiłkòwô gnôt
latviešu: Pakauša kauls
lietuvių: Pakauškaulis
македонски: Тилна коска
Nederlands: Achterhoofdsbeen
日本語: 後頭骨
norsk nynorsk: Bakhovudbein
português: Osso occipital
română: Os occipital
slovenčina: Záhlavná kosť
slovenščina: Zatilnica
српски / srpski: Потиљачна кост
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Potiljačna kost
svenska: Nackben
Türkçe: Os occipitale
українська: Потилична кістка
Tiếng Việt: Xương chẩm
粵語: 枕骨
中文: 枕骨