Anatomical hierarchy

General Anatomy > Alimentary system > Pharynx > Peripharyngeal space > Retropharyngeal space



The retropharyngeal space is a potential space of the head and neck, bounded by the buccopharyngeal fascia anteriorly and the prevertebral fascia posteriorly. 

Because serious infections of teeth can spread down this space into the posterior mediastinum, it is often confused with the danger space. The danger space is actually between the alar fascia and the prevertebral fascia and extends from the cranial base above to the level of the diaphragm.


  • areolar fat
  • lymph nodes (lateral and medial retropharyngeal) only above hyoid
  • small vessels


  • anterior margin: middle layer of the deep cervical fascia
  • posterior margin: alar fascia, which separates the retropharyngeal space from the danger space
  • lateral margins: deep layer of the deep cervical fascia
  • superior margin: the clivus
  • inferior margin: the point at which the alar fascia fuses with the middle layer of the deep cervical fascia, typically around the T4 vertebral body

Relations of the retropharyngeal space:

  • Superior: Base of the skull
  • Inferior: Superior mediastinum
  • Lateral: Carotid sheath
  • Anterior: Buccopharyngeal fascia
  • Posterior: Alar fascia

Related pathology

  • retropharyngeal abscess
  • metastatic adenopathy
  • lymphoma

Harnsberger HR, Glastonbury CM, Michel MA et-al. Diagnostic Imaging: Head and Neck. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. (2010) ISBN:1931884781
Imaging of the Head and Neck. Thieme. (2012) ISBN:3131505311.
Gray's Anatomy (20th U.S. edition of Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, published in 1918)


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