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Cartilages of the larynx

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Cartilages, ligaments, membranes and muscles of the larynx.

The larynx is the most superior part of the respiratory tract in the neck and the voice box of the human body.

It surrounds and protects the vocal chords, as well as the entrance to the trachea, preventing food particles or fluids from entering the lungs. The cartilages of the larynx make up its skeleton. Of the nine cartilages all together, three of them are paired and bilaterally symmetrical, while three remain unpaired and specifically placed for accurate function.

This article will highlight each cartilage and its most relevant facts, so the reader can gain insight into this complex and detailed anatomical marvel.

  1. Thyroid cartilage
  2. Epiglottic cartilage
  3. Cricoid cartilage
  4. Arytenoid cartilages
  5. Corniculate and cuneiform cartilages
  6. Summary
  7. Sources
+ Show all

Thyroid cartilage

This is the largest of the laryngeal cartilages and it is made of two smooth laminae of which the two lower thirds fuse in the midline, while the most superior third remains unfused and creates the laryngeal notch.

The thyroid cartilage is the one that makes the well known Adam’s apple due to the laryngeal prominence that is made because of the fused laminae. The cartilaginous superior and inferior horns are created by the projections of the posterior superior and inferior borders of the cartilage respectively. The thyrohyoid membrane connects the entire superior aspect of the cartilage to the hyoid bone.

Epiglottic cartilage

The epiglottic cartilage which is also known as the epiglottis, is an elastic cartilage which looks like a leaf. When oral contents are swallowed, it functions by closing over the laryngeal inlet (rima glottidis) or simply the glottis.

Epiglottis: cadaveric image. When open, epiglottis makes the upper respiratory airways patent.

It is situated between the hyoid bone and the dorsal part of the tongue anteriorly and the laryngeal inlet posteriorly, while the superior tip is left standing free. The base of the epiglottis is, however, fastened to the thyroid laminae in the midline via the thyroepiglottic ligament. Several membranes run bilaterally between the arytenoid cartilages and the epiglottic cartilages and are quadrangular in shape, so their free corners along with the covering mucosa produce the aryepiglottic fold.

Want a quick and efficient way to learn the cartilages of the larynx? Quiz questions are the secret to your success.

Cricoid cartilage

This cartilage is shaped like a signet ring, with the signet-shaped lamina facing posteriorly. It is a complete circle of cartilage and is attached superiorly via the median cricothyroid ligament to the inferior aspect of the thyroid cartilage.

The cricotracheal ligament also attaches it to the first tracheal ring inferiorly. Its strength and thickness are necessary for holding the upper and lower respiratory tracts together.

Arytenoid cartilages

The arytenoid cartilages are the only major paired cartilages, since the corniculate and cuneiform cartilages are seen to be minor cartilages. They are pyramidal in shape and have three faces.

The arytenoid cartilages articulates with the lateral superoposterior aspects of the lamina of cricoid cartilage. Each arytenoid cartilage bears three processes: an apex, vocal process, and a muscular process. The apex is the most superior process that bears an articular facet for corniculate cartilage and is attached to the aryepiglottic fold. The vocal process projects anteriorly and is the posterior attachment of the vocal cord. Finally, the muscular process which sits laterally, holds the posterior and lateral insertions of the transverse arytenoid, posterior and lateral cricoarytenoid muscles.

Corniculate and cuneiform cartilages

These minor paired elastic cartilages are seen as nodules in the posterior aryepiglottic folds which attaches the arytenoid cartilages to the lateral margin of the epiglottis. The corniculate cartilages attach themselves to the apex of the arytenoid cartilages where the aryepiglottic fold inserts and that is how the nodule-shape in the fold is made.

The cuneiform cartilages are small and club-shaped. They do not directly attach themselves to any other cartilages, but are suspended within the posterior part of the aryepiglottic fold. 

Test your knowledge on the larynx with this quiz.

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