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Nerves of the pharynx

Learning objectives

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

  1. Describe the sensory and motor innervation of the pharynx.
  2. Identify other important nervous structures located in the parapharyngeal space.

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Nearly all of the innervation of the pharynx, either motor or sensory, is derived from the pharyngeal plexus, located in the outer fascia of the pharyngeal wall. This plexus is formed mainly through the branches of the vagus (CN X) and glossopharyngeal (CN IX) nerves with contributions from the superior cervical sympathetic ganglion. 

Other important nerves located in the parapharyngeal space are the accessory (CN XI) and the hypoglossal (CN XII) nerve, as well as all nerves of the cervical sympathetic trunk. These nervous structures are not directly involved in the nerve supply of the pharynx but are closely related to this organ.

Curious about this topic? Check out our video to find out more.

Take a quiz

Test your knowledge of the nerves of the pharynx by taking the following quiz.

Customize your quiz to get a broader collection of questions. Below you will find a quiz about all the structures of the pharynx, that you can modify to your own liking!

Browse atlas

Explore each of the nervous structures of the pharynx and parapharyngeal space with our image gallery.


Key points about the nerves of the pharynx
Pharyngeal plexus - composition Pharyngeal branches of the glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)

Pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve (CN X)

Branches from the external laryngeal nerve from the superior laryngeal branch of the vagus nerve (CN X)

Contributions from the superior cervical sympathetic ganglion
Sensory innervation Nasopharynx - pharyngeal branch of the maxillary nerve (CN V2)

Oropharynx - glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX) via the pharyngeal plexus

Laryngopharynx - vagus nerve (CN X) via the internal branch of the superior laryngeal nerve
Motor innervation All pharyngeal muscles - pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve (CN X) (except for the stylopharyngeus muscle which is innervated by a branch of the glossopharyngeal nerve)

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