The thyroid cartilage surrounds the thyroid gland in the middle of the throat. Its primary function is to protect and support the vocal cords.

It is one of the laryngeal cartilages, which make up the skeleton of the larynx. Cartilage is a tough but somewhat flexible material.

This article discusses the structure and function of the thyroid cartilage.

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The thyroid cartilage is a shield-shaped section of cartilage that forms part of the laryngeal skeleton, a structure in the throat area.

It is the largest of the laryngeal cartilages, and its primary function is to provide structure to support and protect the vocal cords.

The thyroid cartilage sits above the thyroid gland and in front of the larynx.

It is underneath the hyoid bone, which attaches to and supports the tongue. A special tissue called the thyrohyoid membrane keeps the thyroid cartilage tethered to the hyoid bone.

Two identical structures called the thyroid lamina make up the thyroid cartilage. These two thyroid lamina fuse, giving structural integrity to the thyroid cartilage and forming a protrusion called the laryngeal prominence.

The laryngeal prominence is sometimes visible from outside the neck. People also call it the Adam’s apple.

The thyroid cartilage has several functions.

According to research, the primary function of the thyroid cartilage is to protect the airways from damage or injury, especially the vocal cords, which attach to the back side of the thyroid cartilage.

The thyroid cartilage performs this function with other parts of the larynx cartilage. These include the following structures:

  • cricoid cartilage
  • arytenoid cartilages
  • corniculate, cuneiform, and tritiate cartilages
  • the epiglottitis

The laryngeal cartilages help form the framework to which the vocal cords and the muscles around them attach.

Several health-related problems can arise in connection with the thyroid cartilage.

As a 2023 review explains, it is possible for the thyroid cartilage to fracture. Because great force is needed to cause such fractures, they most commonly occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents or sports injuries.

Thyroid cartilage fractures can cause swelling at the front of the throat. This can contribute to some of the symptoms of this condition, which can include:

Treatment for thyroid cartilage fractures will vary depending on the severity of the fracture. It can range from observation to taking corticosteroids to surgery.

Although there are other thyroid cartilage-related health issues, these are not so common. For instance, tumors can develop in the thyroid cartilage, but this is extremely rare.

This section answers some common questions about the thyroid cartilage.

Is it normal for thyroid cartilage to calcify?

Yes, this is entirely normal. Research has shown that with age, the thyroid cartilage calcifies slowly.

This can even prevent the use of certain imaging techniques, such as laryngeal ultrasound.

Is your thyroid cartilage your Adam’s apple?

The thyroid cartilage is not identical to the Adam’s apple. However, the thyroid cartilage does have a V-shaped notch.

This notch is sometimes large enough to create a visible protrusion. People may refer to this protrusion as an Adam’s apple.

What is the cricoid cartilage?

The thyroid cartilage is just one of the cartilages that protect the airways. The cricoid cartilage is another.

According to a 2023 review, the cricoid cartilage is the only one that encircles the airways. It is smaller than the thyroid cartilage.

The thyroid cartilage is one of the many cartilages that primarily function to protect the vocal cords.

It sits above the thyroid gland and in front of the larynx, connecting to the hyoid bone. Its primary components are two structures called the thyroid lamina.

It is possible for the thyroid cartilage to fracture. This can occur during motor vehicle and sports accidents. It can lead to problems talking, breathing, and swallowing. Treatment may range from rest to surgery.