Thyroid cartilage is the largest cartilage present in the larynx, or voice box. It is made up of two plates, called laminae, that join together at the front of the neck and form a prominent structure commonly referred to as the Adam's apple. This structure appears more prominent in males than in females due to a difference in the size of the angle produced by the joining of the laminae.
The Adam's apple, along with eight other cartilages, form what is called the laryngeal skeleton. This structure is present both inside and around the trachea, or wind pipe, which is where the larynx is found. It should be noted that the thyroid cartilage itself has nothing to do with the thyroid gland, rather it is named as such simply due to its proximity to the thyroid.
The majority of the front wall of the larynx is made from thyroid cartilage. The vocal cords, also referred to as vocal folds, are located directly behind the Adam's apple, so they are protected by its presence. Several of the laryngeal muscles also use this cartilage as a point of attachment.
Each of the laminae move together with the cricoid cartilage at the cricothyroid joint. The cricoid cartilage surrounds the trachea and is the only complete ring made of cartilage found there. The cricothyroid joint connects the thyroid cartilage to the cricoid cartilage. This joint is important in human speech, as it helps to change the tension present in the vocal cords. This change is responsible for adjusting pitch in the voice.
The thyroid cartilage works together with the cricothyroid joint to affect the sound of the voice. Due to a larger cartilage, the male voice is typically deeper than that of a female. As this cartilage grows, it is common for a teenage boy to have a squeaky sound to his voice at times. This tends to level out once it has finished growing.
When a patient complains of Adam's apple pain, though the pain may originate from a location near this area, it may not actually involve the cartilage itself. A sore throat or stress in the surrounding muscles can sometimes cause this discomfort. It is always best for people to see a medical professional with any unusual symptoms to ensure a proper diagnosis.