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Pharynx Anatomy


The pharynx is a fibromuscular tube that is semicircular in cross section and is situated directly anterior to the vertebral column. It extends from the skull base to the lower border of the cricoid cartilage. Six muscles are predominantly responsible for the voluntary actions of the pharynx: three pharyngeal constrictor muscles that are roughly circularly layered on top of one another and three vertically oriented muscles (stylopharyngeus, salpingopharyngeus, and palatopharyngeus). These muscles aid in the act of swallowing.

The pharynx serves as a continuation of the digestive cavity, providing a route from the oral cavity proper to the esophagus. In addition, the pharynx communicates with the nasal cavity, the middle ear cavity, and the larynx. The pharynx is often described from an exterior view and an interior perspective. Based on the location, the interior of the pharynx is often separated into three sections—the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and laryngopharynx.

The video below shows a view of the pharynx through the mouth.

A view of the pharynx through the mouth. The patient is supine on the operating room table. A Crowe-Davis mouth gag has been placed in the patient’s mouth to open and expose the oropharynx. At the superior aspect of the pharynx (bottom of the screen) is the inferior aspect of the soft palate with the dangling uvula. The large structures on the lateral aspect of the pharynx are the tonsils. The posterior aspect of the pharynx is lined by the posterior pharyngeal wall and soft tissue that covers the cervical spine. The tongue is retracted by the mouth gag and is visible in the top of the picture. The base of tongue forms the base of the pharynx. The base of tongue contains the lingual tonsils. Video courtesy of Ravindhra G. Elluru, MD, PhD.


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