Your great saphenous vein and small saphenous vein are superficial veins in your legs. They collect oxygen-poor blood from many smaller veins in your legs and feet. Your saphenous veins carry this blood to deep veins where it can keep flowing back to your heart. Varicose veins commonly affect your saphenous veins and may need treatment.
Your saphenous veins are blood vessels in your legs that help send blood from your legs and feet back up to your heart. You have two saphenous veins in each of your legs. They’re called your great saphenous vein and small saphenous vein. Your great saphenous vein is also called your long saphenous vein, and it’s the longest vein in your body, traveling between your foot and the top of your thigh.
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Your saphenous veins, like most other veins in your body, send oxygen-poor blood back to your heart. Many smaller veins in your legs and feet drain into your saphenous veins. Your saphenous veins then carry this blood to veins in your upper legs. From there, your blood keeps traveling upward to your inferior vena cava. This is a large vein that empties blood directly into your heart.
Your saphenous veins are part of your body’s circulatory system. Your circulatory system keeps your blood moving in a constant cycle throughout your body. Your blood is always on the go. That’s because it must deliver oxygen and nutrients to all of your organs and tissues. This happens every minute of every day.
Blood vessels, including your saphenous veins, are the roads that carry blood on this voyage. Arteries carry blood away from your heart, and veins carry blood toward your heart. You might be wondering, why does my blood always have to go back to my heart? The reason is that with each heartbeat, your heart sends blood to your lungs where it can gain oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.
After your blood leaves your lungs, it flows back to your heart. Your heart then pumps this oxygen-rich blood back out to nourish your body. After it delivers oxygen and nutrients, your blood enters your veins to begin its journey back to your heart. And the cycle continues.
Surgeons sometimes use your saphenous vein to create a bypass graft to use elsewhere in your body. This happens in coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).
For CABG, surgeons need to create a new path for your blood to flow around a blocked coronary artery. They use a blood vessel from somewhere else in your body to create this new path. Your saphenous vein provides one option for this process. Researchers continue to explore the pros and cons of using the saphenous vein for bypass grafts.
Your saphenous veins are superficial veins located in your legs. Superficial veins are closer to your skin’s surface, compared with deep veins (which are deep inside your body). Your great saphenous vein extends from your foot to your upper thigh. Your small saphenous vein extends from your foot to the back of your knee.
Your great saphenous vein and small saphenous vein both begin on the top of your foot. They extend from the dorsal venous arch of the foot, which is a series of small veins that bring blood from your foot toward your saphenous vein. Your great saphenous vein begins on the medial end of this vein, or the end that’s closer to the middle of your body.
From there, your great saphenous vein travels upward along the inner surface of your leg. Along the way, other veins drain into your great saphenous vein. The great saphenous vein course ends in your upper thigh. That’s where your great saphenous vein empties into a deep vein called your femoral vein.
Your small saphenous vein begins on the lateral end of the dorsal venous arch of the foot. This is the end that’s closer to the outer edge of your foot. From there, your small saphenous vein travels up the back of your calf and ends behind your knee. It drains into your popliteal vein. This is a deep vein that carries blood to your femoral vein.
The walls of your saphenous veins are made of three layers of tissue:
Your saphenous veins each contain several one-way valves that help your blood flow in the correct direction and prevent it from flowing the wrong way. The number of valves varies from person to person. Most people have anywhere from 10 to 12 valves in their great saphenous vein. These valves, together with squeezing from the nearby muscles, help your blood defy gravity as it flows upward toward your heart.
Vein diseases may affect your saphenous veins or other veins in your legs. These conditions prevent your veins from working as they should. Examples include:
Problems with your saphenous veins or other leg veins may cause:
Usually, a physical exam can show your provider whether there are problems with your saphenous vein. Your provider may also perform a vascular ultrasound to learn more. They may also check your blood for signs of infection or blood clotting disorders.
Treatment depends on your condition. Common treatments include:
Talk with your provider about which treatment options are best for you.
There’s a lot you can do in your daily life to support your vein health. Tips include:
Call your provider if you notice any signs or symptoms of vein problems.
Your saphenous vein isn’t necessarily a varicose vein. It may be healthy, and its valves may work just fine. A varicose vein is a swollen and injured vein that doesn’t work properly. Research shows that when someone has varicose veins, their saphenous veins are usually the ones affected. They’re close to the surface of your skin, so you can easily see when they’re bulging or twisted.
Yes, you can live without your saphenous vein. That’s because you have many other leg veins that help drain blood from your lower body. In fact, your superficial veins (like your saphenous veins) carry much less blood than your deep veins. So, your deep veins can manage the load if needed.
You may need to have part or all of a saphenous vein removed due to vein disease. Or, if you need cardiac bypass surgery, your surgeon may remove part of your saphenous vein to use as a conduit to bypass a blocked artery in your heart.
No. Both your great and small saphenous veins are superficial veins. They drain blood near the surface of your skin and carry it to your deep veins.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It can be easy to forget that your blood vessels work hard every day to keep your blood flowing. You might not think about your saphenous vein or other veins until a problem comes up.
Varicose veins and other vein issues are common. But without treatment, what seems like a cosmetic issue can become more serious. That’s why it’s important to see your provider when you first notice signs of vein problems. Your provider will discuss your treatment options to help you avoid complications.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/04/2022.
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