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Learning objectives

After going through this study unit, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the cavity structure of the larynx.
  2. Identify the cartilages, muscles and ligaments of the larynx.
  3. Understand the different functions of the muscles of the larynx.

Watch video

The larynx houses and protects the vocal cords, as well as the entrance to the trachea, preventing food particles or fluids from entering the lungs during swallowing.

The larynx lies anterior to the esophagus at the level of the third to the sixth cervical vertebrae and is continuous with the laryngopharynx above and trachea below.

It consists of a complex cartilaginous skeleton connected by membranes, ligaments and associated muscles. The muscles can be grouped into extrinsic muscles, suspending the larynx to its neighboring structures and moving it as a whole, and intrinsic muscles, which move the vocal cords in order to produce speech sounds (phonation).

Watch the following video to learn more about anatomy and structure of the larynx!

Take a quiz

To solidify your knowledge and get ready for your exam, try out our quiz:

To focus on, and resolve any weak spots, try our custom quiz about the neck which gives you full control on which terms and and topics you will get quizzed on:

Browse atlas

Take a closer look now to see how the intrinsic muscles of the larynx affect the shape of the vocal cords and rima glottidis.

Browse our atlas gallery to look at each structure in more detail.


Key facts about the larynx
Spaces Three parts: Vestibule, ventricle, infraglottic cavity
Cartilages Unpaired: Epiglottis, cricoid cartilage, thyroid cartilage
Arytenoid cartilages, corniculate cartilages, cuneiform cartilages, (triticeal cartilages → variable)

Cricoid cartilage, thyroid cartilage
Elastic: Epiglottis, arytenoid cartilages (only vocal process), corniculate cartilages, cuneiform cartilages, (triticeal cartilages)
Ligaments and membranes Extrinsic: Thyrohyoid membrane, cricotracheal ligament, hyoepiglottic ligament
: Quadrangular membrane, vestibular fold, thyroepiglottic ligament, median/anterior cricothyroid ligament, conus elasticus, vocal ligaments
Extrinsic muscles Depressors: Infrahyoid muscles (sternohyoid muscle, sternothyroid muscle, omohyoid muscle; except thyrohyoid muscle)
: Thyrohyoid muscle, suprahyoid muscles (digastric muscle, stylohyoid muscle, geniohyoid muscle, mylohyoid muscle, stylopharyngeus muscle)
Intrinsic muscles Adductors: Transverse arytenoid muscle, oblique arytenoid muscle, lateral cricoarytenoid muscle
: Posterior cricoarytenoid muscle
: transverse arytenoid muscle, aryepiglottic muscle
: Cricothyroid muscle
: Thyroarytenoid muscle, vocalis muscle (fine adjustment)
Innervation Superior laryngeal nerve: External branch (external laryngeal nerve) → motor innervation to cricothyroid muscle; internal branch (internal laryngeal nerve) → sensory/secretomotor innervation to laryngeal cavity above vocal cords
Recurrent laryngeal nerve
: Anterior laryngeal branch (inferior laryngeal nerve) → motor innervation to all intrinsic muscles (except cricothryoid muscle); posterior laryngeal branch → sensory/secretomotor innervation to laryngeal cavity below vocal cords
Function Air conduction, airway protection, sound production

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