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What Is the Temporal Fossa?

Located on each side of the head, the temporal fossa sits just below the zygomatic arch, an extension of bone that makes up the cheek bones.
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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2014
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Similar to a patchwork quilt, the skull is a combination of many different bones "stitched" together by the edges of some bones fusing to create what are referred to as sutures — thin seam-like lines — as the bones mature. This merging of bones forms a hard yet uneven shell to encase the brain, complete with slightly bulged areas and several concave regions. One of the inwardly curved areas is called the temporal fossa. Located on each side of the head, the temporal fossa sits just below the zygomatic arch, an extension of bone that makes up the cheek bones.

Within the temporal fossa area there are several muscles, nerves, and blood vessels responsible for allowing this area of the head to receive nourishment, as well as signals from the brain and spinal cord. In addition, the muscles attached to this area are a main contributor to facial movement and the ability of the face to show expressions. The temporalis muscle, for example, attaches to the temporal fossa and runs toward the middle of the face to the zygomatic arch, where it then connects to the triangular protuberance called the coronoid process of the mandible or lower jaw. The temporalis muscle is a key component of mastication, otherwise known as chewing.

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In addition to being a place where muscles attach, the temporal fossa contains several arteries, or blood vessels, responsible for carrying blood away from the heart and into the rest of the body. The two deep temporal arteries, running between the temporalis muscle and the pericardium, the outer surface of the bone, give the muscles nourishment in the form of oxygenated blood. The superficial temporal artery, located just above the cheek bones, is the most important blood vessel in the head. This artery is covered by a facial muscle and is crossed by the temporal and zygomatic branches of the facial nerves. The superficial temporal artery also runs with the ariculotemporal nerve which provides signals and sensations to the side of the face.

Since the temporal fossa slightly curves inward and contains several essential blood vessels, nerves, and muscles, it is a sensitive area of the facial region. Many people experience discomfort or pain in this area as the muscles contract during high stress times. This can cause pressure on the blood vessels, which can lead to a restriction of blood flow to the area. Tension and stress may also push on the nerves, causing nerve pain or pain symptoms radiating into other areas of the face or head.

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