Palatine muscles (overview)
The soft palate is the muscular portion of the palate, a posterior continuation of the hard palate that is mainly formed by skeletal muscles, the palatine aponeurosis, and mucosa. It partially separates the nasopharynx from the oropharynx.
The soft palate consists of the palatopharyngeal arch and the uvula, and contains the palatal muscles (also known as muscles of the soft palate or palatine muscles). This muscle group include the:
- Palatopharyngeus muscle
- Palatoglossus muscle
- Uvular muscle
- Levator veli palatini muscle
- Tensor veli palatini muscle
The palatine aponeurosis is a thin, fibrous structure that is created by extensions of the tensor veli palatini muscle tendons and strengthens the soft palate. It attaches to the posterior border and inferior surface of the hard palate. Its anterior part is thick, but it becomes thinner posteriorly. Near the midline, the aponeurosis surrounds the uvular muscle. All other palatal muscles attach to the palatine aponeurosis.
The levator veli palatini and tensor veli palatini muscles press the soft palate to the posterior and lateral walls of the pharynx, dividing the nasopharynx from the oropharynx. It happens mainly during swallowing, allowing the food from the oral cavity pass next through the oropharynx to the esophagus. The palatopharyngeus muscles primary are involved in breathing, but the four remaining muscles - in swallowing.
All of the palatal muscles, with the exception of the tensor veli palatini, receive nerve supply through the pharyngeal plexus - with nerve fibers originating from the pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve (CN X). The tensor veli palatini is the only one of these muscles innervated by the mandibular nerve (CN V3) via the medial pterygoid nerve.