What is the Parapharyngeal Space?

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  • Written By: Andy Josiah
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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The parapharyngeal space is described as a potential space located in the head and neck, particularly at the pharynx. This is part of the throat and, by extension, the digestive system. The "para" prefix and the alternate term "lateral pharyngeal space" refer to the space being lateral to, or alongside, the upper part of the pharynx. The parapharyngeal space is called a potential space because of its ability to momentarily disappear.

Shape-wise, the parapharyngeal space resembles an inverted pyramid. Besides the pharynx, it is lateral to the medial pterygoid muscle, also known as the internal pterygoid muscle, which plays a role in chewing food. From the superior aspect, which is the skull's surface viewed from above, the space is at the cranium's sphenoid and temporal bones. Medially, the parapharyngeal space is bound by the superior pharyngeal constrictor, which composes part of the pharynx's uppermost section of its outer muscle layer.

At the front, or anterior, of the parapharyngeal space is the pterygomandibular raphe, or pterygomandibular ligament. This band is connected at one extremity to the medial pterygoid plate. Additionally, its rear border offers an attachment to the superior constrictor muscle of the pharynx. The cervical vertebrae and its paravertebral muscles serve as the posterior border of the parapharyngeal space.


The lateral, medial, anterior and posterior borders of the parapharyngeal space enable it to be a part of the retropharyngeal space. This is an area that occupies the back of the pharynx. Additionally, it is situated beneath the muscles that have points of attachments known collectively as the styloid process.

The parapharyngeal space contains two arteries: the internal maxillary artery and the ascending pharyngeal artery. The former is responsible for providing the face with its deep structures. The latter is notable for ascending a side of the pharynx, as well as originating in the external carotid artery, a major blood vessel of the neck and head.

The parapharyngeal space is particularly important in otolaryngology, a branch of medicine that concerns the throat disorders, as well as that of the head, ears, nose and neck. It is prone to tumors of neurogenic and salivary engines, as well as accumulations of pus known as abscesses. Parapharyngeal tumors, however, tend to be malignant about 20 to 30 percent of the time. Physicians typically rely on radiation or surgical therapy to treat them, and parapharyngeal abscesses can be taken care of with surgical drainage or antibiotics. Diagnosis is often made using an x-ray computed tomography (CT) scan.


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