Objectives: To describe the use of the great auricular nerve as a 'road map' for locating the accessory nerve in the anterior and posterior triangle, in comparison with other methods described in the literature.
Design: A review of the literature using Medline and Embase searches was performed. Illustrative photographs were taken from consenting, elective patients.
Results: Various methods have been described, using different anatomical landmarks. We describe a new method, based on the fact that the great auricular nerve runs, with relation to the edges of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, 1 cm superior to the accessory nerve anteriorly and 1 cm inferior posteriorly.
Conclusions: This is a reliable and safe method, used by the senior authors in their extensive work as head and neck and skull base surgeons. It allows the accessory nerve to be located in both the anterior and posterior triangle. This avoids the inherent dangers of following the nerve's tortuous course through the sternocleidomastoid.