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Passavant’s ridge

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

The pharynx is an intercommunicating pathway situated in the cervical region of the human body. The lower two segments of the pharynx facilitate the passage of food inferiorly into the lower digestive tract.

Superior movement of the bolus from the oropharynx to the nasopharynx is limited by synergistic action of Passavant’s ridge (palatopharyngeal sphincters), muscles of the velum (soft palate) and the uvula.

This article will review the muscles associated with Passavant’s ridge, their neurovascular supply and lymphatic drainage as well as the physiology associated with the closure of the nasopharyngeal isthmus during swallowing.

  1. Muscles of the Passavant’s ridge
    1. Palatopharyngeus muscle
    2. Superior constrictor muscle
    3. Salpingopharyngeus
    4. Soft palate muscles
  2. Neurovascular supply and lymphatic drainage
  3. Closure of the nasopharyngeal isthmus
  4. Clinical aspects
  5. Sources
+ Show all

Muscles of the Passavant’s ridge

Palatopharyngeus muscle

The palatopharyngeal sphincter consists of skeletal muscle fibers of the most superior aspect of the palatopharyngeus muscle. The fibers form an incomplete circle along the lateral and posterior walls of the nasopharyngeal isthmus at the level of the C1 vertebra.

Palatopharyngeal muscle (posterior view)

In vivo, the ridge can be observed just inferior to the pharyngeal tonsils and posterior and inferior to the pharyngeal opening of the auditory tube (ostium pharyngeum).

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Superior constrictor muscle

The superior constrictor muscle of the pharynx originates from the pterygoid hamulus, the pterygomandibular raphe, as well as the posterior end of mylohyoid line of mandible. The superior fibers attach to the pharyngeal tubercle of the basilar part of the occiput of the skull, by way of the pharyngeal raphe. The inferior fibers blend with the middle constrictors to the level of the vocal folds.

Superior pharyngeal constrictor muscle (posterior view)


Salpingopharyngeus originates from the inferomedial apex of the cartilaginous part of the auditory tube. The muscle then courses inferoposteriorly to merge with palatopharyngeus in the submucosa, giving rise to the salpingopharyngeal fold (the anterior border of the fossa of Rosenmüller).

Salpingopharyngeal muscle (posterior view)

Soft palate muscles

The bilateral muscles of the soft palate that aid in the closure of the nasopharyngeal isthmus are:

  • The palatoglossus muscle originates from the inferior surface of the palatine aponeurosis and inserts by interdigitating with styloglossus.
Palatoglossus muscle (anterior view)
  • The anterior head of palatopharyngeus originates from the posterior part of the hard palate as well as the anterosuperior surface of the palatine aponeurosis; while the posterior head arises from the posterosuperior aspect of the palatine aponeurosis. They each insert in the posterior and anterior borders of the thyroid lamina, respectively.
  • Tensor veli palatini has its origin at the scaphoid fossa of pterygoid process, spine of sphenoid bone, as well as the membranous wall of the auditory tube. It inserts on the palatine aponeurosis.
  • Levator veli palatini originates from both the inferior apical part of the petrous bone and the medial side of the cartilaginous part of the auditory tube. It inserts on the nasal part of the palatine aponeurosis.
Cross section through the head highlighting the levator veli palatini muscle

Neurovascular supply and lymphatic drainage

The muscles associated with the closure of the nasopharyngeal isthmus receive arterial supply from the facial, maxillary artery and ascending pharyngeal arteries. Venous drainage is accomplished by the pharyngeal and pterygoid venous plexuses.

Ascending pharyngeal artery (posterior view)

They are innervated by fibers of the pharyngeal plexus, with the exception of tensor veli palatini, which is innervated by the mandibular nerve. Lymphatic fluid is drained by way of the retropharyngeal and upper deep cervical lymph nodes.

Pharyngeal plexus of the glossopharyngeal nerve (lateral-left view)

Closure of the nasopharyngeal isthmus

The superior pharyngeal constrictors contract to narrow the nasopharyngeal space. While the tensor veli palatini muscle tenses the soft palate to prevent distortion, the levator veli palatini, palatopharyngeus and salpingopharyngeus elevate it posterosuperiorly. The lateral and posterior walls around the nasopharyngeal isthmus are then made taut by contraction of the palatopharyngeal sphincter muscle fibers. The latter action forms Passavant’s ridge. These series of actions prevents communication between the nasopharynx and the oropharynx during swallowing.

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