The popliteal artery is the continuation of the femoral artery that begins at the level of the adductor hiatus in the adductor magnus muscle of the thigh. As it continues down, it runs across the popliteal fossa, posterior to the knee joint. The popliteal artery passes obliquely through the popliteal fossa and then travels between the gastrocnemius and popliteal muscles of the posterior compartment of the leg; it then continues into the deep part of the posterior compartment of the leg, passing under the tendinous arch between the two heads of the gastrocnemius and immediately bifurcates into the anterior and posterior tibial arteries. The popliteal artery is the deepest vascular structure of the popliteal fosa, running closely to the knee’s capsule.
The popliteal artery is the major contributor to the blood supply of the knee joint. Despite its short course, the popliteal artery has several branches:
The popliteal artery gives off five genicular branches that contribute to the periarticular genicular anastamosis that supply the knee joint capsule and ligaments. The five branches are:
- Superior lateral genicular artery
- Superior medial genicular artery
- Middle genicular artery
- Inferior lateral genicular artery
- Inferior medial genicular artery
The superior lateral and medial genicular arteries arise from the popliteal artery and curve around their respective femoral condyles, supplying the bone of the femoral condyles, the adjacent synovium of the knee joint and the superior part of the patella. The single and smaller middle genicular artery branches off the popliteal artery behind the distal femoral intercondylar region where it runs anteriorly and penetrates the posterior part of the knee joint capsule. It supplies the posterior cruciate ligament, the posterior part of the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior aspects of the menisci. The inferior lateral and medial genicular arteries branch off the popliteal artery and run around the tibial condyles, deep to the collateral ligaments of the knee. These arteries supply the adjacent areas including the joint capsule of the knee, the collateral ligaments and tendons, the anterior part of the anterior cruciate ligament and the inferior part of the patella.
The popliteal artery has various muscular branches that provide vascular supply to the hamstring, gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris muscles. The superior muscular branches of the popliteal artery anastamose with the deep femoral and gluteal arteries of the thigh.
The sural arteries are large vessels that arise on each side of the popliteal artery to provide a vascular supply to the gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris muscle.
When the popliteal artery ends at the inferior border of the popliteus muscle it bifurcates into the anterior and posterior tibial arteries.