The Anatomy of the Hyoid Bone

The hyoid bone is a small horseshoe-shaped bone located in the front of your neck. It sits between the chin and the thyroid cartilage and is instrumental in the function of swallowing and tongue movements.

The little talked about hyoid bone is a unique part of the human skeleton for a number of reasons.

First, it's mobile. This means that other than its attachment site to the thyroid cartilage (which is part of the larynx and discussed below) it floats.

You can even move your hyoid from side to side—for safety's sake, very gently—by lightly touching either end and then alternating an ever so slight pushing action. This action is called palpating the hyoid bone.

Second, it has an unusual shape that resembles a horseshoe.

From breathing to eating, the hyoid bone plays a role in a number of key functions that keep you alive.

Anatomy of the Hyoid

The hyoid is situated at the front, or anterior, part of the neck between the jaw bone and the thyroid cartilage, and is firmly secured to the thyroid cartilage by ligaments.

It resides at the level of the third cervical vertebra, attaching indirectly, by means of tendons to muscles of the tongue, the floor of the mouth and the anterior neck.

Although it is small, the hyoid bone is only rarely fractured. This is due to its location, which generally protects the bone from all but direct trauma.

The hyoid bone provides a place of attachment for several anterior (front) neck muscles. The muscles that attach onto the hyoid bone include, but are not limited to, the:

  • Sternohyoid
  • Mylohyoid
  • Omohyoid
  • Digastric muscles

These and other anterior neck muscles play a role in swallowing and may be affected in cases of neck injuries or misalignment.

The hyoid bone is located above the Adam's apple (in men) and below the tonsils and the epiglottis.

While not technically a part of the larynx, at the top, the two structures are very close. The hyoid provides an attachment site for muscles that control movements of the larynx. 

Function 

Since the hyoid functions as an attachment point for the larynx, it's involved in any function that the larynx is involved in.

The larynx is the area above your windpipe, aka trachea, that helps protect you from choking on foreign objects. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is when food "goes down the wrong pipe." 

The larynx does its primary job of protecting you from choking by quickly closing off the opening to the trachea when a foreign object tries to enter. Remember, the windpipe is built for air, not things.

Another thing the larynx does is produce sound; singers and speakers often refer to the larynx as the voice box. The larynx is also responsible for coughing, which is part of the choking protection mechanism function mentioned above.

The larynx has a few other purposes, as well, including playing a role in ventilation and functioning as a sensory organ.

A second function of the hyoid bone is to provide a foundation or base from which the tongue can move. 

Finally, the hyoid bone is involved in respiration it plays a role in keeping the airway open. That important not only for breathing but for sleep and sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea.

Rehabilitation

The hyoid bone is small, and it functions as an attachment point for many muscles involved in swallowing, jaw movements, and respiration.

Swallowing function may be impaired due to problems such as stroke, neck injuries, or jaw and neck cancers. If that occurs, working with a specialist like a speech pathologist may be useful.

Your speech therapist may perform specific exercises to help you swallow better, and these may involve getting familiar with your hyoid bone. Exercises for swallowing function may include:

  • Mendelsohn maneuver
  • Effortful swallow
  • Supraglottic swallow

Your therapist may also teach you how to mobilize your hyoid bone and to stretch or strengthen the muscles that surround it.

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Article Sources
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