Sphenoid Bone

Author: Scott A. Sheffield MS

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– The Sphenoid bone (os sphenoidale; Gr., sphen – wedge + eidos – form) is a butterfly-shaped cranial bone that is located in the middle of the skull between the frontal and temporal bones.

  • Sphenoid bone primarily consists of a centrally positioned body, which surrounds and protects the pituitary gland, and two sets of lateral, wing-like extensions called the greater and lesser wings.
  • A pair of pterygoid processes (processus pterygoideus) extends from the inferior surface of the sphenoid bone, near the junction of the body and greater wings. They provide attachment for some of the chewing and swallowing muscles.


  1. Body (corpus sphenoidalis) is the cuboid-shape center portion of the sphenoid bone. It contains the sphenoid sinuses and a large depression for the pituitary gland. [Cranial floor view / Inferior view]
  1. Lesser wing (ala minor sphenoidalis) is the smaller of two wing-like lateral extensions that arise from the sides of the sphenoid body. The lesser wings are flattened, triangular in shape, and located above and anterior to the greater wings. [Cranial floor view / Anterior view]

Learn the bones of the body step by step with this interactive quiz guide. 

  1. Greater wing (ala major sphenoidalis) is the larger of two wing-like lateral extensions that arise from the sides of the sphenoid body. The greater wings curve upward, laterally, and backward to form a portion of the prominent middle cranial fossa. [Cranial floor view / Inferior view Lateral view]
  1. Orbital surface of the greater wing (facies orbitalis sphenoidalis) is the smooth, anterior portion the greater wing. It is quadrilateral-shaped (four sides) and forms a portion of the posterior wall of the orbit. [Anterior view]
  1. Optic canal or foramen (canalis opticus or foramen opticum sphenoidalis) is an opening in the lesser wing that transmits the optic nerve and ophthalmic artery. [Cranial floor view / Anterior view]
  1. Superior orbital fissure (Fissura orbitalis superior sphenoidalis) is an narrow opening between the lesser and greater wings in the posterior orbit. It transmits the oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, and abducens nerves. [Anterior view]
  1. Foramen rotundum: is a round hole in the anteromedial portion of the greater wing. It gives passage to the maxillary nerve branch of the trigeminal nerve. [Cranial floor view]
  • Foramen ovale (foramen ovale sphenoidalis) is an oval hole in the posterior portion of the greater wing. It is the passageway for the mandibular nerve ( a branch of the trigeminal nerve), accessory meningeal artery, lesser petrosal nerve, and emissary veins.  [Cranial floor view / Inferior view]
  1. Foramen spinosum (foramen spinosum sphenoidalis) is a small opening posterior to the foramen ovale that transmits the middle meningeal artery and the meningeal branch of the mandibular nerve. [Cranial floor view / Inferior view]
  1. Chiasmatic groove or sulcus (sulcus chiasmaticus or sulcus prechiasmaticus sphenoidalis) is a narrow, transverse depression that runs between the optic canals. The optic nerves pass along this groove before they partially decussate (cross or intersect) at the optic chiasm.  [Cranial floor view]
  1. Anterior clinoid process (processus clinoideus anterior sphenoidalis) is a posterior projection from each lesser wing. They are attachment sites for the tentorium cerebelli (dura mater), which separates the cerebellum from the inferior occipital lobes of the brain. The processes also help enclose and protect the pituitary gland. [Cranial floor view]
  1. Sella turcica (sella turcica sphenoidalis; L. Turkish saddle) is a depression on the upper part of the body. It houses the pituitary gland (hypophysis) and consists of the hypophyseal fossa, dorsum sellae, tuberculum sellae, and posterior clinoid processes.

    Cranial floor view of Sellae turica

  1. Hypophyseal fossa (fossa hypophysialis sphenoidalis) is the depression in which the pituitary gland sits. [Cranial floor view]
  1. Tuberculum sellae (tuberculum sellae sphenoidalis) is the raised anterior edge of the sella turcica, which is located just posterior the chiasmatic groove. [Cranial floor view]
  1. Dorsum sellae (dorsum sallae sphenoidalis) is the square-shaped posterior wall of the sella turcica. [Cranial floor view]
  1. Posterior clinoid process (processus clinoideus posterior sphenoidalis) is a small, lateral extension from each side of the dorsum sellae. The left and right clinoid processes help enclose the posterior wall of the sella turcica around the pituitary gland and give attachment to the tentorium cerebelli region of the dura mater. [Cranial floor view]
  1. Pterygoid process (processus pterygoideus sphenoidalis) is an inferior extension from the junction of the sphenoid body and greater wing. Each pterygoid process consists of two, thin, vertical plates (Gr., pterygodes – wing shaped). The plates are fused anteriorly and separated by a cleft posteriorly. [Inferior view]
  1. Lateral pterygoid plate (lamina lateralis processus pterygoidei sphenoidalis) is lateral of two plates that form the pterygoid process. It is the attachment point for the lateral and medial pterygoid muscles, which move the mandible while chewing. [Inferior view]
  1. Medial pterygoid plate (lamina medialis processus pterygoidei sphenoidalis) is the narrower, longer plate of pterygoid process. Its medial surface gives support to the posterior opening of the nasal cavity. [Inferior view]
  1. Pterygoid hamulus (hamulus pterygoideus sphenoidalis) is a hook-like inferior extension of the medial pterygoid plate. The hamulus acts like a pulley for the gliding movements of the tendon for the tensor veli palatini muscle. This muscle tenses or elevates the soft palate during the swallowing process so food does not enter the nasopharynx. [Inferior view]

Test Yourself:

    • Cranial floor view of the sphenoid bone.


  • Inferior view of the sphenoid bone.
  • Anterior view of the sphenoid bone.