The arytenoid cartilage is a pair of structures made of connective tissue that makes up part of the larynx. The larynx helps transport air to the lungs and also assists with speech. The arytenoid cartilage is triangular in shape and very much resembles small pyramids. When in the embryo stage, this cartilage helps to form the temporary skeleton, much of which turns to bone as the embryo matures.
Sitting on top of the cricoid cartilage, the only complete piece of cartilage found in the larynx, the arytenoid cartilage moves around the cricoarytenoid joints. These joints help to open and close the vocal cords, assisting with speech as well as breathing. Arthritis is a common affliction affecting these joints, particularly among those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Any movement of the arytenoid cartilage will have some sort of impact on the vocal cords. Depending on the direction of movement, the vocal cords will either become tight or loose, close together, or spread farther apart. These actions have a major effect on the ability to breathe, speak, or even sing.
When the embryo is developing into a viable human being, the arytenoid cartilage forms part of what is known as the temporary skeleton. The connective tissue forming this cartilage provides a starting point for the development of the bones, which will become the permanent skeleton. The arytenoid cartilage, therefore, is an important part of the developing embryo's growth mechanism.
Dislocation of the arytenoid cartilage is a relatively common problem and has a number of potential causes. For instance, when a patient has an airway obstruction requiring intubation, or the surgical placement of a tube into the windpipe, this somewhat fragile cartilage can become dislocated or otherwise damaged, potentially paralyzing the vocal cords. This particular injury is actually considered rare, with trauma being a more common cause of injury, although some studies list trauma as a secondary cause of dislocation.
In the event of trauma such as a car accident or blunt force involving this part of the body, the arytenoid cartilage can become dislocated, or in extreme cases, may collapse completely. Surgical intervention is virtually always necessary in order to repair or rebuild the cartilage as well as any surrounding structures that may have also suffered damage from the injury. Vocal cord paralysis occurring as a result of this type of injury can frequently be repaired, although complete function may not ever return in some instances.