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Definition of Vocal cord

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Vocal cord: One of two small bands of muscle within the larynx. These muscles vibrate to produce the voice. The vocal cords form a "V" inside the larynx, a 2-inch-long, tube-shaped organ in the neck:

Thyroid Gland illustration - Vocal cord
We use the larynx when we breathe, talk, or swallow. Its outer wall of cartilage forms the area of the front of the neck referred to as the "Adams apple."

Each time we inhale (breathe in), air goes into our nose or mouth, then through the larynx, down the trachea, and into our lungs. When we exhale (breathe out), the air goes the other way. When we breathe, the vocal cords relax and air moves through the space between them without making a sound.

When we talk, the vocal cords tighten up and move closer together. Air from the lungs is forced between them and makes them vibrate, producing the sound of our voice. The tongue, lips, and teeth form this sound into words.

The larynx is also sometimes called the voice box.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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