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What Is the Thyroid Cartilage?

Thyroid cartilage is the largest cartilage present in the larynx.
The majority of the front wall of the larynx is made from thyroid cartilage.
The visible prominence of thyroid cartilage is commonly referred to as the Adam's apple.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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Thyroid cartilage is the largest cartilage present in the larynx, or voice box. It is made up of two plates, called laminae, that join together at the front of the neck and form a prominent structure commonly referred to as the Adam's apple. This structure appears more prominent in males than in females due to a difference in the size of the angle produced by the joining of the laminae.

The Adam's apple, along with eight other cartilages, form what is called the laryngeal skeleton. This structure is present both inside and around the trachea, or wind pipe, which is where the larynx is found. It should be noted that the thyroid cartilage itself has nothing to do with the thyroid gland, rather it is named as such simply due to its proximity to the thyroid.

The majority of the front wall of the larynx is made from thyroid cartilage. The vocal cords, also referred to as vocal folds, are located directly behind the Adam's apple, so they are protected by its presence. Several of the laryngeal muscles also use this cartilage as a point of attachment.

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Each of the laminae move together with the cricoid cartilage at the cricothyroid joint. The cricoid cartilage surrounds the trachea and is the only complete ring made of cartilage found there. The cricothyroid joint connects the thyroid cartilage to the cricoid cartilage. This joint is important in human speech, as it helps to change the tension present in the vocal cords. This change is responsible for adjusting pitch in the voice.

The thyroid cartilage works together with the cricothyroid joint to affect the sound of the voice. Due to a larger cartilage, the male voice is typically deeper than that of a female. As this cartilage grows, it is common for a teenage boy to have a squeaky sound to his voice at times. This tends to level out once it has finished growing.

When a patient complains of Adam's apple pain, though the pain may originate from a location near this area, it may not actually involve the cartilage itself. A sore throat or stress in the surrounding muscles can sometimes cause this discomfort. It is always best for people to see a medical professional with any unusual symptoms to ensure a proper diagnosis.

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umbra21
Post 4

@Mor - I saw an episode of Grey's Anatomy recently that dealt with that very topic. There was a girl who had had too many surgeries on the cartilage of her throat and it wasn't able to heal properly.

They used a groundbreaking new technique to "grow" a new piece of thyroid cartilage for her from her own cells and then put it into place with surgery so that she was still able to breath and talk afterwards.

I looked up the procedure because I suspected that they were exaggerating for the show, but they can actually do this with various parts of the body now. Which is great because knee cartilage is one of the things that almost always eventually wears out in the majority of people.

Mor
Post 3

@Anna32 - The pain might be coming from that area, but it wouldn't be the cartilage that was hurting, it would be the nerves and things around it. If the cartilage itself was somehow pierced without shifting anything around it, it wouldn't hurt, because there are no nerve endings there, and there isn't a blood supply either.

That's one of the reasons that cartilage doesn't heal very quickly, as the lack of a blood supply means that it can't repair itself well.

It doesn't really need a blood supply or nerves though as the main function of the thyroid cartilage in the Adam's apple is to protect the vocal cords.

Anna32
Post 2

According to this article, when people have pain in the throat it is not actually thyroid cartilage pain but rather pain coming from a general area.

So is that to say that a person cannot experience pain in the thyroid cartilage at all, or just that this specified type of pain is rare? I don't know a lot about thyroid cartilage anatomy, but it seems to me if the cartilage became torn that there would be definitive pain coming from that precise area.

babiesX3
Post 1

How utterly fascinating! I always did wonder why a man's Adam's Apple was so much more prominent than a woman's and this article explains that beautifully. Who would have thought that something as simple as a growth angle could produce such a dramatic difference?

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