Structural analysis of muscles elevating the hyolaryngeal complex

William G. Pearson, Susan E. Langmore, Louis B. Yu, Ann C. Zumwalt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


A critical event of pharyngeal swallowing is the elevation of the hyolaryngeal complex to open the upper esophageal sphincter. Current swallowing theory assigns this function to the submental and thyrohyoid muscles. However, the attachments of the long pharyngeal muscles indicate that they could contribute to this function, yet their role is uninvestigated in humans. In addition, there is evidence the posterior digastric and stylohyoid contribute to hyoid elevation. A cadaver model was used to document the structural properties of muscles. These properties were used to model muscle groups as force vectors and analyze their potential for hyolaryngeal elevation. Vector magnitude was determined using physiological cross-sectional areas (PCSAs) of muscles calculated from structural properties of muscle taken from 12 hemisected cadaver specimens. Vector direction (lines of action) was calculated from the three-dimensional coordinates of muscle attachment sites. Unit force vectors in the superior direction of submental, suprahyoid (which includes the submental muscles), long pharyngeal, and thyrohyoid muscles were derived and compared by an analysis of variance (ANOVA) to document each muscle's potential contribution to hyolaryngeal elevation. An ANOVA with Tukey HSD post hoc analysis of unit force vectors showed no statistically significant difference between the submental (0.92 ± 0.24 cm2) and long pharyngeal (0.73 ± 0.20 cm2) muscles. Both demonstrated greater potential to elevate the hyolaryngeal complex than the thyrohyoid (0.49 ± 0.18 cm 2), with P < 0.01 and P < 0.05, respectively. The suprahyoid muscles (1.52 ± 0.35 cm2) demonstrated the greatest potential to elevate the hyolaryngeal complex: greater than both the long pharyngeal muscles (P < 0.01) and the thyrohyoid (P < 0.01). The submental and thyrohyoid muscles by convention are thought to elevate the hyolaryngeal complex. This study demonstrates that structurally the long pharyngeal muscles have similar potential to contribute to this critical function, with the suprahyoid muscles having the greatest potential. If verified by functional data, these findings would amend current swallowing theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-451
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Deglutition
  • Deglutition disorders
  • Hyolaryngeal complex
  • Laryngeal elevation
  • Physiological cross-sectional area
  • Structural properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Speech and Hearing


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