Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.


1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962

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Levator scapulæ muscle

The levator scapulae muscle (levator anguli scapulæ) is a triangular multipennate muscle which extends between the cervical spine and the scapula. This muscle is deep to the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscle.

It is formed by discrete muscular slips that originate from the first four transverse processes (C1-C4). It can have an extra slip from C5 (as shown in the side image).

These muscular slips pass posteroinferiorly, joining, and inserting in the superior scapular angle and the scapular medial border between the superior scapular angle and the medial origin of the scapular spine. It may attach to the scapular spine.

There are other anatomical variations including muscular slips that may extend to the occipital bone or mastoid process, to the trapezius, scalene, or serratus anterior magnus muscles, or to the first or second rib.

It receives nerve supply from the fourth and fifth cervical nerves and by a branch from the dorsal scapular nerve. The dorsal scapular nerve arises from the C5 root of the brachial plexus.

It receives its blood supply from the dorsal scapular artery.

The function of this muscle depends on which bony element is fixed, the scapula or the cervical spine. When the spine is fixed, the levator scapulae elevates the scapula and pulls the superior portion of the medial scapular border superomedially. When only one scapula is fixed, the head and neck flexes and rotates ipsilaterally while it extends the neck contralaterally.

The order and shape of the muscular slips is interesting, as the slip from the transverse process of the Atlas (C1) twists posteriorly and descends to insert as the most posterior and inferior fibers in the medial border of the scapula. The other slips follow a similar pattern, which is what allows this muscle to rotate the neck. This indicates that the fibers of the levator scapulae muscle are spiral and the fibers follow the contour of the neck. This makes (to my knowledge) the levator scapulae the only spiral muscle of the body. This is shown as "A" in the second side image; "B" represents the misconception on the direction of the fibers in this muscle.

Since it is a common sign of stress and bad posture to raise the shoulders, this muscle can spasm, causing neck pain and in some cases be a trigger for headaches.

Note: The first side image shown in this article is from “Gray’s Anatomy” (1918) which is in the public domain. The second side image is from Arnold’s “Reconstructive Anatomy” (1968).

Levator scapulæ muscle - Image modified from the original by Testut and Latarjet. Public domain
Levator scapulæ muscle.
Click on the image for a larger depiction 

Levator scapulæ muscle fibers - Image modified from the original by Arnold 1968
Levator scapulæ muscle fibers.
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Note: Animated image below by Wikimedia Commons - Anatomography [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)]
Anatomography [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)]

1. “Gray’s Anatomy” Henry Gray, 1918
2. "Tratado de Anatomia Humana" Testut et Latarjet 8th Ed. 1931 Salvat Editores, Spain

2. "Tratado de Anatomía Humana" Testut et Latarjet 8th Ed. 1931 Salvat Editores, Spain
3. "Gray's Anatomy" 38th British Ed. Churchill Livingstone 1995
4. “An Illustrated Atlas of the Skeletal Muscles” Bowden, B. 4th Ed. Morton Publishing. 2015
5. “Reconstructive Anatomy, A Method for the Study of Human Structure” Arnold, M. W.B. Saunders. 1968“Gray’s Anatomy” Henry Gray, 1918