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Cartilages of the Larynx

The larynx is the most superior part of the respiratory tract 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.

Recommended video: Larynx
Cartilages, ligaments, membranes and muscles of the larynx.

Thyroid Cartilage

The 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

Epiglottic cartilage

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

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.

Cricoid Cartilage

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 trachea inferiorly. Its strength and thickness are necessary for holding the upper and lower respiratory tracts together.

Arytenoid Cartilages

Arytenoid cartilage

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

The cricoid lamina articulates with these cartilages on its lateral superior aspect. The three processes of a single arytenoid cartilage include the apex which is most superior, which balances the corniculate cartilage and attaches to the aryepiglottic fold. Also, the vocal process which sits anteriorly and is the posterior attachment of a vocal cord. Finally, the muscular process, which sits laterally and holds the posterior and lateral insertions of the cricoarytenoid muscles.

Corniculate and Cuneiform Cartilages

Corniculate cartilage

These minor paired elastic cartilages are seen as nodules in the posterior aryepiglottic folds. 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 do not attach themselves to any other cartilages, just muscles and ligaments.

Summary

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.

The main cartilages of the larynx are: 

  • the thyroid cartilage,
  • the epiglottic cartilage,
  • the cricoid cartilage,
  • the arytenoid cartilages and
  • the corniculate and cuneiform cartilages

Cartilages of the Larynx - want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 852,397 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Frank H. Netter, MD, Atlas of Human Anatomy, Fifth Edition, Saunders - Elsevier, Chapter 1 Head and Neck, Subchapter 8 Thyroid Gland and Larynx, Page 43 to 44.
  • Rishi Vashishta. Larynx Anatomy. Medscape. June 21, 2013
  • Neil S. Norton, Ph.D. and Frank H. Netter, MD, Netter’s Head and Neck Anatomy for Dentistry, 2nd Edition, Elsevier Saunders, Chapter 16 The Larynx, Page 420 to 435.
  • Frank H. Netter, Atlas der Anatomie, 5th Edition (Bilingual Edition: English and German), Saunders, Kapitel 1, Tafel 77 to 80.

Author:

  • Dr. Alexandra Sieroslawska

Illustrators:

  • Larynx - Lateral view - Begoña Rodriguez
  • The thyroid cartilage - Irina Münstermann
  • Epiglottic cartilage - Yousun Koh 
  • Cricoid cartilage - Irina Münstermann
  • Arytenoid cartilage - Yousun Koh
  • Corniculate cartilage - Yousun Koh
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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