oesophagus (anatomy)

Last reviewed 01/2018

The oesophagus extends from the neck, where it is joined to the inferior margin of the cricoid cartilage at the level of the C6 vertebra, to the cardiac orifice of the stomach at the level of T11. During this course, it traverses the inferior neck, the thorax and the upper abdomen: the relations it has during this course are described in the submenu.

It is continuous with the pharynx superiorly and the stomach inferiorly. Throughout its length it is approximately vertical and anterior to the vertebral bodies, but its course deviates slightly in relative to the median plane:

  • in the neck: initially median but then slopes to the left
  • in the thorax:
    • moves back to the median plane by the fifth vertebra
    • moves slightly left again by the seventh vertebra; also, by this stage it slopes more ventrally to the oesophageal aperture - the oesophagus mirrors the thoracic spine by having a similar anteroposterior curvature throughout the thorax

Several constrictions of the oesophagus may be seen during endoscopy or barium swallow. Generally, these represent extramural pressure from surrounding structures.