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Muscles and walls of the pharynx

Recommended video: Muscles of the pharynx [13:28]
Overview of the muscles of the pharynx and related structures.

The pharynx is a muscular column that runs between the oral cavity and the esophagus. It is divided up into three main sections known as:

All three of these cavities open posteriorly into the pharyngeal tube.

This article will highlight the anatomical structures, namely the muscles the make up the pharyngeal walls, with regards to their origins, insertions, innervation, main functions, blood supply and lymphatic drainage. Lastly, some common pathological alterations will be mentioned.

Key facts
Muscles of the walls of the pharynx Superior pharyngeal constrictor
Middle pharyngeal constrictor
Inferior pharyngeal constrictor
Innervation They are all innervated by the pharyngeal plexus and pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve, except the stylopharyngeus which is innervated by the glossopharyngeal nerve.
Functions They all act on the pharynx, either constricting or elevating it.
  1. Muscles of the pharynx
    1. General
    2. Superior pharyngeal constrictor muscle
    3. Middle pharyngeal constrictor muscle
    4. Inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle
    5. Palatopharyngeus muscle
    6. Salpingopharyngeus muscle
    7. Stylopharyngeus muscle
  2. Innervation
  3. Blood supply
  4. Lymphatic drainage
  5. Clinical notes
  6. Sources
+ Show all

Muscles of the pharynx


The muscles that make up the pharyngeal walls run both circularly on the outside and longitudinally on the inside. The three pharyngeal constrictor muscles make up the outer layer of the wall while the inner layer is comprised of paired muscles. The superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscles form a muscular sleeve that has a strong internal lining on its fascial aspect known as the pharyngobasilar fascia.

Pharyngeal constrictors

Before going any further in learning the muscles and walls of the pharynx, make sure you're not making any of these common mistakes that hinder your anatomy learning!

These muscles contract involuntarily in a sequence known as peristalsis which helps push the food bolus down from the oral cavity and into the esophagus which occurs during and immediately after swallowing. The three paired muscles of the inner pharynx act as a group in order to elevate the larynx, shorten the pharynx and act during swallowing and speaking. These muscles are known as the stylopharyngeus, the palatopharyngeus and the salpingopharyngeus.

There are several gaps that exist between the folds of the pharyngeal constrictor muscles which allow structures to enter and exit the pharynx. Between the superior constrictor muscle and the skull , the levator palatini muscle, the auditory tube and the ascending palatine artery pass through. Between the superior and middle pharyngeal constrictor muscles, the stylopharyngeus muscle and the glossopharyngeal nerve pass through. Between the middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscles, the internal laryngeal nerve and the superior laryngeal artery and vein pass through. Lastly, below the inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle, the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the inferior laryngeal artery pass through.

Learn everything about the pharyngeal muscles with our study unit:

Superior pharyngeal constrictor muscle

This muscle originates from:

  • the pterygoid hamulus
  • the pterygomandibular raphe
  • posterior end of mylohyoid line of mandible

It inserts into the pharyngeal tubercle and the pharyngeal raphe. Its function is to constrict the upper portion of the pharynx.

Key facts about the superior pharyngeal constrictor muscle
Origins Pterygoid hamulus, pterygomandibular raphe, posterior end of mylohyoid line of mandible
Insertions Pharyngeal tubercle on basilar part of occipital bone
Innervation Branches of pharyngeal plexus (CN X)
Function Constriction of the upper portion of the pharynx during swallowing

Middle pharyngeal constrictor muscle

The middle pharyngeal constrictor muscle proximally attaches to the stylohyoid ligament and the greater and lesser cornu of the hyoid bone. It distally attaches to the median pharyngeal raphe, as does the inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle. It constricts the middle portion of the pharynx.

Key facts about the middle pharyngeal constrictor muscle
Origins Stylohyoid ligament, greater and lesser horns of the hyoid bone
Insertions Median pharyngeal raphe, blends with superior and inferior pharyngeal constrictors
Innervation Branches of pharyngeal plexus (CN X)
Function Constriction of the middle portion of the pharynx

Inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle

The inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle arises from the oblique line of the thyroid cartilage of the larynx and the lateral aspect of the cricoid cartilage of the larynx. It acts by constricting the lower portion of the pharynx.

Key facts about the inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle
Origins Thyropharyngeal part: Oblique line of thyroid cartilage
Cricopharyngeal part: Cricoid cartilage
Insertions Thyropharyngeal part: Median pharyngeal raphe
Cricopharyngeal part: Blends inferiorly with circular esophageal fibres
Innervation Both parts: Branches of pharyngeal plexus (CN X)
Cricopharyngeal part: also receives branches of external and/or recurrent laryngeal branches of vagus nerve (CN X)
Function Constriction the lower portion of the pharynx

Palatopharyngeus muscle

This muscle starts at the posterior border of the hard palate on the palatine aponeurosis and finishes on the posterior aspect of the lamina of the thyroid cartilage of the larynx, as do the other paired muscles. It elevates the pharynx in order to close off the nasopharynx during swallowing.

Key facts about the palatopharyngeus muscle
Origins Posterior border of hard palate, palatine aponeurosis
Insertions Posterior border of thyroid cartilage, blends with contralateral palatopharyngeus muscle
Innervation Branches of pharyngeal plexus (CN X)
Function Elevates pharynx superiorly, anterioly and medially (shortening it to swallow)

Salpingopharyngeus muscle

The salpingopharyngeus muscle originates from the cartilage of the auditory tube and ثlevates pharynx and opens auditory tube during swallowing.

Salpingopharyngeus muscle (posterior view)
Key facts about the salpingopharyngeus muscle
Origins Inferior/cartilaginous part of auditory (Eustachian) tube
Insertions Blends with palatopharyngeus muscle
Innervation Branches of pharyngeal plexus (CN X)
Function Elevates pharynx, opens auditory tube during swallowing

Stylopharyngeus muscle

Lastly, the stylopharyngeus muscle comes from the medial aspect of the base of the styloid process and functions by elevating the pharynx and expanding it laterally.

Key facts about the stylopharyngeus muscle
Origins Medial base of styloid process of temporal bone
Insertions Blends with pharyngeal constrictors, lateral glossoepiglottic fold, posterior border of thyroid cartilage
Innervation Glossopharyngeal nerve
Function Elevates pharynx and larynx


The pharyngeal plexus is the main nervous plexus that supplies the pharynx. The sensory branches originate from the glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) which runs into the plexus. The maxillary nerve (CN V/II) supplies the anterior and superior nasopharynx, while the tonsillar nerves carry fibers from both the glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) and the vagus nerve (CN X).

The motor branches come from the pharyngeal plexus and carry fibers from the vagus nerve (CN X). Those fibers provide motor innervation to all the muscles of the pharynx and the soft palate with two exceptions: the stylopharyngeus muscle is suuplied by the glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) and the tensor veli palatini is supplied by the mandibular nerve (CN V3). 

Learn more about the nerves of the pharynx with our study unit below! After that, solidify what you've learned by taking our fully customizable quiz!

Blood supply

The arterial supply of the pharyngeal region comes from the facial artery, which gives the tonsillar artery and supplies the tonsils. Other branches include:

The venous drainage is governed by the external palatine vein that drains into the pharyngeal venous plexus and from there into the internal jugular vein.

Learn more about the blood vessels of the pharynx with our study unit below! After that, solidify what you've learned by taking our fully customizable quiz!

Lymphatic drainage

Lastly, the lymphatic drainage occurs in general to the deep cervical nodes. The tonsillar tissues however, drain to the nodes at the angle of the mandible and to the jugulodigastric node.

Test and consolidate your knowledge about the muscles of the pharynx with our quiz below!

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