External jugular vein

External Jugular Vein: What Is Its Function?

The external jugular vein (or jugal) is a major blood vessel that supplies oxygenated blood from the lungs to all parts of the body. It originates at the heart and travels through several branches before it reaches your extremities. It then returns back to the heart via another branch called the splanchnic artery.

In addition to supplying oxygenated blood, the jugal is involved in many other functions such as:

Releasing endorphins, which are natural opiates. Endorphins relieve pain and provide pleasure. They have been found to reduce stress and anxiety.

The release of endorphins helps regulate mood.

Endothelial cells lining the veins secrete substances called prostaglandins into the bloodstream when they contract to close off blood vessels after injury or surgery. These substances increase blood flow to tissues.

Prostacyclin is released during exercise, but it also occurs naturally in response to emotional stress. Prostacyclin increases blood flow to muscles and joints, reduces muscle cramps and spasms, relieves joint pain and inflammation, improves circulation in the brain and spinal cord, prevents bleeding after injuries such as strokes or heart attacks, promotes healing of wounds caused by blunt trauma such as burns or stab wounds.

The external jugular vein also prevents blood clotting and the formation of blood clots by releasing substances such as plasmin into the bloodstream. Plasmin breaks down blood clots.

You may have heard that you can feel your heartbeat in your ear when your ear is placed against a pillow (or anything else) after you’ve been running or exercising. This is because the external jugular vein runs directly behind the ear. This is why you feel your blood pulsing through it after physical activity.

The jugal is also used in a process known as intermittent clioral ventilation (ICP), which can be used to treat infants who have trouble breathing. As the baby breathes, the external jugular vein expands and contracts, pushing air into and out of the lungs. This treatment works better than continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which forces air into the lungs but does not mimic the natural function of the jugal.

External Jugular Vein: Location and Definition

The external jugular vein is a large vein located on the side of your neck. It is paired with the jugular vein on the opposite side of your body. The external jugular vein originates at the base of the brain where it receives blood from internal carotid artery which supplies it with oxygen rich blood from the heart.

The external jugular then travels down the side of the face and neck until it reaches the clavicle (collar bone). It then angles medially (toward the middle of the body) and passes through the sternoclavicular joint (where the clavicle meets the sternum, or chest bone). Once it reaches the sternum, it continues to travel down to end at the top of the heart.

This is part of the larger cardiovascular system, which transports oxygen and nutrients to where they are needed and collects carbon dioxide and other waste for elimination from the body.

Anatomy and Physiology

The jugular veins are paired veins that travel alongside the arteries of the same name, one on the left and one on the right. They carry deoxygenated blood from the head, neck, and upper limbs back to the heart. The right and left common facial vein also accompany the common facial artery as it travels up the face then angle medial to join the corresponding jugular vein.

Acupressure Points

The paired external and internal jugular veins are considered meridians or acupressure points of the heart. Acupressure to these points increases blood flow and helps cardiac output when other treatments do not help relieve angina or high blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure and Angina

Acupressure of these points may help with angina or high blood pressure. The external jugular vein is located in the neck at the bottom of the earlobe. Massage it with your index finger in a upward motion towards the jawbone, pressing firmly for 10 seconds.

You can also use acupressure on yourself or have a health care provider perform this on you.

Acupressure in Infants

These points may also be useful to stimulate in infants who are having trouble breathing. They can be stimulated by massaging the soft spot on the top of the infant’s head, known as thefontanel. Massage firmly in a circular motion, using your fingertips.

You can also help the infant take a breath by using the the thumbs to apply pressure below the ribs but above the pelvis. Make a cup with your hand and gently rub up and down. The infant will probably cry a little, but this should stimulate them to take a breath when they were unable to do so before.

Heart Attack

If someone is experiencing a heart attack, do not perform any kind of massage or acupressure on them. Instead, immediately call emergency services and follow their instructions. A heart attack is a serious medical emergency that needs to be treated as soon as possible by a trained medical professional.

Benefits of External Jugular Vein Massage

The external jugular vein may be massaged to relieve stress or anxiety. This may be due to it’s location and what it does. It is located in a place that is easily accessible, and the functions of this vessel are closely tied to emotions.


When you are under stress, your body responds in many ways. One of these responses is an increased heart rate. This increases blood flow and prepares the body to respond to the stressor(s) by running or fighting.

Another response is the dilation of blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and decreases blood flow to less important parts of the body so that the heart can pump blood to the muscles that are important for fighting or fleeing.

The Jugular Veins

The jugular veins, which drain deoxygenated blood from the brain, function similarly. When under stress, the veins expand and contract to pump blood from the brain. When you massage this area, you provide a great stimulus to this system and can cause this vein to expand and contract, along with increasing your own heart rate.

If you want to relieve stress, try massaging the external jugular at the bottom of your earlobe. This is not guaranteed to work for everyone though.

Other Applications

The external jugular is also used in some forms of massage, including Thai yoga massage. This is a form of massage that takes advantage of the external jugular’s ability to be pressed on and provide a great stimulus to the brain. It is commonly used to increase awareness and promote relaxation.

This massage should only be performed by a professional though, as there is a risk of causing damage to nerves if it is pressed on too strongly or in the wrong way.

Sources & references used in this article:

Safer Jugular Vein CannulationRecognition of Arterial Puncture and Preferential Use of the External Jugular Route by DR JOBES, AJAY SCHWARTZ… – … : The Journal of …, 1983 – anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org

Internal jugular vein versus external jugular vein anastamosis: implications for successful free tissue transfer by AA Chalian, TD Anderson, GS Weinstein… – Head & neck, 2001 – Wiley Online Library

Percutaneous cervical central venous line placement: a comparison of the internal and external jugular vein routes. by KG Belani, JJ Buckley, JR Gordon… – Anesthesia and …, 1980 – europepmc.org

Usefulness of the external jugular vein examination in detecting abnormal central venous pressure in critically ill patients by AG Vinayak, J Levitt, B Gehlbach… – Archives of Internal …, 2006 – jamanetwork.com

Central venous catheterization via the external jugular vein: A technique employing the J-wire by CD Blitt, WA Wright, WC Petty, TA Webster – JAMA, 1974 – jamanetwork.com

Prediction of a small internal jugular vein by external jugular vein diameter by BR Stickle, H McFarlane – Anaesthesia, 1997 – Wiley Online Library