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Popliteal vein

Popliteal vein
Popliteal vein (anterior view)

The popliteal vein is a deep vein of the leg. It drains blood away from the leg into the femoral vein, which drains blood to the inferior vena cava to return to the right atrium of the heart.

The deep veins contain valves just like the superficial veins of the body. They also rely on muscular contractions to assist in returning the venous blood to the right atrium of the heart.

In this article we will discuss the anatomy and clinical relevance of the popliteal vein. 

  1. Anatomy
    1. Popliteal fossa
    2. Tributaries
    3. Location
  2. Clinical points
  3. Sources
+ Show all


Popliteal fossa

Popliteal vein (dorsal view)

The popliteal vein is a deep vein that drains the leg. The sciatic nerve runs down the posterior surface of the leg, and its largest branch, the tibial nerve is the most superficial structure of the popliteal fossa, which is a diamond-shaped fossa that lies at the posterior surface of the knee. The biceps femoris defines the popliteal fossa proximolaterally, and the semimembranosus and semitendinosus muscles define its proximomedial border. The two heads of the gastrocnemius muscle form the inferior borders, medially and laterally.

To remember the order of structures in the popliteal fossa (from medial to lateral) you can use the following mnemonic; Serve And Volley Next Ball.

  • Semimembranosus/Semitendinosus
  • Artery
  • Vein
  • Nerve
  • Biceps femoris


The popliteal vein is formed by the confluence of the deep veins of the leg, i.e. the posterior tibial, anterior tibial and common fibular veins. It also receives venous blood from the superficial vein of the lateral leg, i.e. the short saphenous vein. The short saphenous vein pierces the deep fascia of the leg, and enters the popliteal fossa by passing through the two heads of the gastrocnemius.


The popliteal vein then ascends and passes through the adductor hiatus (an opening formed between the two insertions of the adductor magnus muscle) to become the femoral vein, which passes superiorly and runs in the femoral triangle medial to the femoral artery, which is itself medial to the femoral nerve. The femoral nerve runs underneath the inguinal ligament, and provides motor innervation to the anterior compartment of the thigh.

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