Saphenous Vein

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.


What is the saphenous vein?

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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What is the function of the saphenous vein?

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.

Function of saphenous veins in coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)

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.


Where is the saphenous vein located?

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.


What is the anatomy of the saphenous vein?

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.

What is the saphenous vein made of?

The walls of your saphenous veins are made of three layers of tissue:

  • The tunica adventitia (outer layer) gives structure and shape to your vein.
  • The tunica media (middle layer) contains smooth muscle cells. These cells allow your vein to get wider (dilate) or narrower (constrict) as blood flows through.
  • The tunica intima (inner layer) has a lining of smooth endothelial cells. These cells allow blood to move easily through your vein.

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.

Conditions and Disorders

What common conditions affect the saphenous vein?

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:

  • Varicose veins. These are swollen, bulging veins that you can see along the surface of your skin. They’re often harmless but can sometimes lead to complications like skin ulcers (open sores).
  • Chronic venous insufficiency. This condition happens when the one-way valves in your leg veins become damaged. Blood pools in your veins rather than flowing efficiently up to your heart. This can cause leg swelling and pain in the affected leg.
  • Superficial thrombophlebitis. This is a blood clot that forms just under your skin in a superficial vein.


What are the common signs or symptoms of saphenous vein problems?

Problems with your saphenous veins or other leg veins may cause:

  • Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles or feet, especially after standing a while.
  • Pain or tenderness.
  • Achy, tired or throbbing legs.
  • Leathery-looking skin on your legs.
  • Flaking or itchy skin on your legs or feet.

What tests check the health of the saphenous vein?

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.

What are common treatments for the saphenous vein?

Treatment depends on your condition. Common treatments include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Your provider may recommend conservative measures to help with varicose veins. These include elevating your legs often and wearing compression stockings. Your provider may also recommend more physical activity.
  • Sclerotherapy: Your provider injects a solution into your varicose vein to help it disappear over time.
  • Endovenous thermal ablation: Your provider uses a catheter (tube) and laser to close off the damaged vein.
  • Vein ligation and stripping: Your surgeon ties off and removes the damaged vein.
  • Blood thinners: If there is a blood clot in the area, your doctor may suggest blood thinners to treat it.

Talk with your provider about which treatment options are best for you.


How can I keep my saphenous vein healthy?

There’s a lot you can do in your daily life to support your vein health. Tips include:

  • Avoid tobacco products.
  • Be active as much as you can throughout the day. Avoid sitting for too long.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet to help keep a weight that's healthy for you.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk at least five days a week.
  • Take stretch breaks when you need to sit for a long time (like during long car rides). If you can’t get up and walk around, lift your feet and flex your ankles up and down.

Call your provider if you notice any signs or symptoms of vein problems.

Additional Common Questions

Is the saphenous vein a varicose vein?

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.

Can you live without your saphenous vein?

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.

Is the great saphenous vein a deep vein?

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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/04/2022.

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