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Popliteal vein

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. 

Zoom in on the popliteal vein

Popliteal vein - anterior view


Popliteal fossa

Popliteal vein inside the 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.


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.

Clinical Points

Popliteal vein aneurysm: Popliteal vein aneurysms are rare, and do not commonly present clinically. Surgical repair is indicated if it is causing symptoms, such as:

  • deep vein thrombosis
  • pulmonary embolisms

Deep vein thrombosis: The deep veins of the lower limb are the most vulnerable to this condition, which rarely presents in the upper limb. Any patient that has prothrombotic risk factors is at risk of deep vein thrombosis. Some of these factors include: 

  • smoking
  • lack of mobility 
  • use of oestrogen contraceptive pills
  • recent surgery
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Show references


  • Frank H.Netter MD: Atlas of Human Anatomy, 5th Edition, Elsevier Saunders.
  • Chummy S.Sinnatamby: Last’s Anatomy Regional and Applied, 12th Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
  • Richard L. Drake, A. Wayne Vogl, Adam. W.M. Mitchell: Gray’s Anatomy for Students, 2nd Edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
  • Kvasha V, et al: Popliteal Vein Aneurysm: A Rare Cause of Recurrent Pulmonary Embolism. Department of Vascular Surgery, Carmel Medical Center, Michal Street 7, 34362 Haifa, Israel (accessed 16/03/2016).
  • Arger P: The Complete Guide to Vascular Ultrasound. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004 (accessed 16/03/2016).
  • Snell R: Clinical Anatomy by Regions. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008 (accessed 16/03/2016).

Author, Review and Layout:

  • Shahab Shahid
  • Jérôme Goffin
  • Catarina Chaves


  • Popliteal vein - dorsal view - Liene Znotina
  • Popliteal vein - anterior view - Begoña Rodriguez
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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