Soft palate and palatine muscles (overview)
The soft palate is a posterior continuation of the hard palate, and it is mainly formed by the skeletal muscles and palatine aponeurosis (a connective tissue plate). The main components of the soft palate are muscles, and therefore, it is also known as the muscular palate.
The soft palate forms approximately one-third of the palate, and it is its mobile, elastic and durable portion. The muscular palate partially separates the nasopharynx from the oropharynx and can be elevated during digestion to close the pharyngeal isthmus, thus preventing food from entering the nasopharynx.
The soft palate is composed of five palatine muscles (also known as the palatal muscles) that provide swallowing, digestion, breathing and articulation. All these muscles go in various directions and are attached to the palatine aponeurosis. The following palatine muscles form the soft palate:
- Palatopharyngeus muscle (Read more!)
- Palatoglossus muscle (Read more!)
- Muscle of the uvula (Read more!)
- Levator veli palatini muscle (Read more!)
- Tensor veli palatini muscle (Read more!)
The palatopharyngeus is primarily involved in breathing, but all others in swallowing. All palatine muscles, except the tensor veli palatini, receive nerve supply from the pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve (CN X) through the pharyngeal plexus. The tensor veli palatini is the only palatal muscle that is innervated by the mandibular nerve (CN V3) via the medial pterygoid nerve.
The palatine aponeurosis is a thin, fibrous connective tissue plate that forms the base of the soft palate, connects with palatine muscles and strengthens the soft palate. It is created by extensions of the tensor veli palatini muscle tendons. The palatine aponeurosis is attached to the posterior border and inferior surface of the palatine bones and extends in the longitudinal direction across the entire length of the soft palate. Its anterior part is thicker, but it becomes thinner posteriorly.