The arytenoid cartilage is a pair of pyramid-shaped pieces of cartilage found in the larynx (voice box), which are essential to the production of vocal sound. Cartilage is tough, yet flexible tissue located at the ends of joints. The arytenoid cartilage is located on the dorsal (back) side of the larynx above the cricoid lamina, a signet ring-shaped cartilage that lies near the bottom of the larynx.
The arytenoid cartilage is two of the nine pieces of cartilage that make up the structure of the larynx, the others are: one cricoid, one thyroid, two corniculate, two epiglottal, and two cuneiform cartilages.
Each arytenoid cartilage has three processes including:
- The vocal process: The vocal process extends anteriorly (toward the front of the body) and is attached to the vocal ligament, also called the vocal cord or 'true' vocal cord. The vocal ligament is one edge of a sheet of elastic connective tissue known as the conus elasticus (cricothyroid membrane), which is connected to the cricoid, the thyroid, and the arytenoid cartilages.
- The muscular process: The muscular process extends laterally (to the side) and is attached to the muscles of phonation, which allow the movement of the arytenoid cartilage to adjust the tension of the vocal ligament and thus change sound pitch.
The secondary function of the cricoid, thyroid, and arytenoid cartilages is to keep the airway through the larynx open allowing air to pass over the vocal cords.