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Muscles of the larynx: want to learn more about it?

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Muscles of the larynx

Muscles of the larynx

There are many muscles that either make up a certain part of the laryngeal structure inside the neck, or that sit adjacent to it and aid in its function. These muscles produce the movements of the larynx and its cartilages, thus enabling the proper air conduction, speech, movements of the epiglottis and airways protection.

The muscles of the larynx are divided into two groups:

This article will discuss the anatomy and function of the laryngeal muscles.

Key facts about the muscles of the larynx
Extrinsic muscles
  • Infrahyoid muscles: sternohyoid muscle, omohyoid muscle, sternothyroid muscle, thyrohyoid muscle
  • Suprahyoid muscles: stylohyoid muscle, digastric muscle, mylohyoid muscle, geniohyoid muscle
Intrinsic muscles
  • Adductors: lateral cricoarytenoid muscle, transverse arytenoid muscle
  • Abductors: posterior cricoarytenoid muscle
  • Sphincters: transverse arytenoid muscle, oblique arytenoid muscle, aryepiglottic muscle
  • Tensors: cricothyroid muscle
  • Muscles that relax vocal cords: thyroarytenoid muscle, vocalis muscle

Extrinsic muscles

The extrinsic muscles of the larynx are those that are somehow attached to the hyoid bone, be it via origin or insertion and thus move the thyroid cartilage. The infrahyoid muscles are part of and attach to the lower larynx as well as the inferior aspect of the hyoid bone. This muscle group includes the sternohyoid muscle, the omohyoid muscle, the sternothyroid muscle and the thyrohyoid muscle which work to lower the larynx and the hyoid bone.

The suprahyoid muscles are attached to the superior aspect of the hyoid bone and function to fixate the hyoid bone as well as elevate it along with the larynx. The muscles in this group include the stylohyoid muscle, the digastric muscle and the mylohyoid muscle. The stylopharyngeus muscle is not attached directly to the hyoid bone, however it acts indirectly to elevate both the hyoid bone and the larynx.

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Intrinsic muscles

The intrinsic muscles of the larynx alter both the length and the tension placed upon the vocal cords as well as the rima glottidis. The adductor muscle group is made up of the lateral cricoarytenoid muscles and the transverse arytenoid muscles. The muscles that govern abduction are the posterior cricoarytenoid muscles. The sphincter muscles are the transverse arytenoid muscles, the oblique arytenoid muscles and the aryepiglottic muscles. The cricothyroid muscles are responsible for tensing the vocal cords whilst the thyroarytenoid muscles and the vocalis muscles are responsible for relaxing them.

Cricothyroid muscle

This muscle originates on the anteriolateral part of cricoid cartilage and inserts into the inferior border of the thyroid cartilage and its inferior horn. It is innervated by the external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve and is supplied by the superior and inferior thyroid arteries, as are all the intrinsic laryngeal muscles. Upon contraction, it lengthens and tenses the vocal ligaments.

Posterior cricoarytenoid muscle

The proximal attachment of this muscle is on the posterior surface of the lamina of the cricoid cartilage and its corresponding insertion point is on the muscular process of the arytenoid cartilage. The recurrent laryngeal nerve innervates this muscle, as it does all the other intrinsic muscles of the larynx, with the exception of the cricothyroid muscle. Its function is to abduct the vocal folds.

Lateral cricoarytenoid muscle

Ailing from the arch of the cricoid cartilage, this muscle distally attaches itself to the muscular process of the arytenoid cartilage. It acts as an adductor of the vocal folds.

Thyroarytenoid muscle

The thyroarytenoid muscle originates from the angle of thyroid cartilage and adjacent cricothyroid ligament. It inserts into the anterolateral surface of arytenoid cartilage, just as the posterior and lateral cricoarytenoid muscles do. As for function, the muscle shortens and relaxes the vocal cords.

Overview of the larynx anatomy and larynx muscles in a cadaver.

Vocalis muscle

The proximal attachment of the vocalis muscle is upon the vocal process of the arytenoid cartilage. It inserts distally upon the vocal ligament and acts by tensing the anterior vocal ligament and relaxing the posterior vocal ligament.

Transverse and oblique arytenoid muscles

Lastly, the arytenoid cartilage acts as a point of origin for both the transverse and oblique arytenoid muscles, which run between the two arytenoid cartilages, as they distally attach to the opposing arytenoid cartilage. Due to their points of attachment, they are able to close the intercartilaginous portion of the rima glottidis.

Ready to test your knowledge about the functional anatomy of the intrinsic laryngeal muscles? Try out our vocal cords quiz below:

Muscles 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.

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

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