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Orbit (anatomy)

This article is about the orbit, the anatomical space that contains the eye. For other uses of orbit or orbita see Orbit (disambiguation) and Orbita (disambiguation).
File:Eye orbit anatomy anterior2.jpg
Image of the right orbit, containing the eye.
Latin Orbita
Gray's p.188
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Anatomical terminology

In anatomy, the orbit is the cavity or socket of the skull in which the eye and its appendages are situated. "Orbit" can refer to the bony socket,[1] or it can also be used to imply the contents.[2] In the adult human, the volume of the orbit is 30 mL, of which the eye occupies 6.5 mL.[3]


The orbits are conical or four-sided pyramidal cavities, which open into the midline of the face and point back into the head. Each consists of a base, an apex and four walls. [4]

The apex lies near the medial end of superior orbital fissure and contains the optic canal (containing the optic nerve and ophthalmic artery), which communicates with middle cranial fossa.

The roof (superior wall) is formed primarily by the orbital plate frontal bone, and also the lesser wing of sphenoid near the apex of the orbit. The orbital surface presents medially by trochlear fovea and laterally by lacrimal fossa.[5]

The floor (inferior wall) is formed by the orbital surface of maxilla, the orbital surface of zygomatic bone and the minute orbital process of palatine bone. Medially, near the orbital margin, is located the groove for nasolacrimal duct. Near the middle of the floor, located infraorbital groove, which leads to the infraorbital foramen. The floor is separated from the lateral wall by inferior orbital fissure, which connects the orbit to pterygopalatine and infratemporal fossa.

The medial wall is formed primarily by the orbital plate of ethmoid, as well as contributions from the frontal process of maxilla, the lacrimal bone, and a small part of the body of the sphenoid. It is the thinnest wall of the orbit, evidenced by pneumatized ethmoidal cells.[5]

The lateral wall is formed by the frontal process of zygomatic and more posteriorly by the orbital plate of the greater wing of sphenoid. The bones meet at the zygomaticosphenoid suture. The lateral wall is the thickest wall of the orbit, important because it is the most exposed surface, highly vulnerable to blunt force trauma.


The base, which opens in the face, has four borders. The following bones take part in their formation:

  1. Superior margin: frontal bone and sphenoid
  2. Inferior margin: maxilla, palatine and zygomatic
  3. Medial margin: ethmoid, lacrimal bone, and frontal
  4. Lateral margin: zygomatic and sphenoid



File:Orbital bones.png
The seven bones that articulate to form the orbit:
yellow = Frontal bone
green = Lacrimal bone
brown = Ethmoid bone
blue = Zygomatic bone
purple = Maxillary bone
aqua = Palatine bone
red = Sphenoid bone

teal = Nasal bone (illustrated but not part of the orbit)

In humans, seven bones make up the bony orbit:

Foramina and openings

  1. Optic canal
  2. Superior orbital fissure
  3. Inferior orbital fissure
  4. Anterior ethmoidal foramen
  5. Posterior ethmoidal foramen
  6. Infraorbital foramen
  7. Supraorbital foramen
  8. Naso-lacrimal canal opening
  9. Zygomatic orbital foramen


The orbits protect the eye from mechanical injury.[6]

Clinical significance

In the orbit, fat tissue, which surrounds the eyeball and its muscles, keeps the rotation smooth with respect to the center of the eye. If excess fat or other abnormal tissue is collected in the orbit, the eye may protrude, a condition known as exophthalmos.[7]

File:Tear system.svg
Tear system:
a. tear gland / lacrimal gland,
b. superior lacrimal punctum,
c. superior lacrimal canal,
d. tear sac / lacrimal sac,
e. inferior lacrimal punctum,
f. inferior lacrimal canal,
g. nasolacrimal canal
Enlargement of the lacrimal gland, located superotemporally within the orbit, produces protrusion of the eye inferiorly and medially (away from the location of the lacrimal gland). Lacrimal gland may be enlarged from inflammation (e.g. sarcoid) or neoplasm (e.g. lymphoma or adenoid cystic carcinoma).[8]

Tumors (e.g. glioma and meningioma of the optic nerve) within the cone formed by the horizontal rectus muscles produce axial protrusion (bulging forward) of the eye.

Graves disease may also cause axial protrusion of the eye, known as Graves' ophthalmopathy, due to buildup of extracellular matrix proteins and fibrosis in the rectus muscles. Development of Graves' ophthalmopathy may be independent of thyroid function.[9]

Additional images


  1. ^ "Orbit – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  2. ^ Orbit at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  3. ^ Duane's Ophthalmology, Chapter 32 Embryology and Anatomy of the Orbit and Lacrimal System. (eds Tasman W, Jaeger EA) Lippincott/Williams & Wilkins, 2007
  4. ^ "eye, human."Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD 2009
  5. ^ a b Moore, Keith L. (2010). Clinically Oriented Anatomy 6th Ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 978-07817-7525-0. 
  6. ^ "eye, human."Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD 2009
  7. ^ "eye, human
  8. ^ Kumar V, Abbas AK, Fausto N. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. Seventh Edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2005, p. 1423.
  9. ^ Hatton MP, Rubin PA. The pathophysiology of thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy. Ophthalmol Clin North Am 15:113–119, 2002.

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