What is the Superficial Femoral Artery?

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  • Written By: Shelby Miller
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 02 May 2020
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The superficial femoral artery is a major blood vessel of the front compartment of the thigh. A continuation of the common femoral artery, the superficial portion is distinguished where the common femoral branches off to form the deep femoral artery. The superficial femoral is the artery that is often utilized as a point of access to the circulatory system for catheters or wires, or for drawing blood. It is responsible for transporting oxygen-rich blood from the heart to various structures in the leg, including the knee joint and the popliteus muscle behind the knee.

Arising from the external iliac artery in the pelvis, the common femoral artery originates where this vessel passes beneath the inguinal ligament, the oblique ligament on the front of the hip that divides the pelvis from the leg. After descending a short distance down the front of the upper thigh and crossing beneath the sartorius muscle, the common femoral bifurcates into the deep femoral artery and superficial femoral artery. Also known as the profunda femoris, the deep branch goes on to supply blood to the deep muscles of the medial or inner thigh, while the superficial portion of the femoral artery continues undivided down the anterior thigh.

Approximately three-quarters of the way down the length of the femur bone in the thigh, the superficial femoral artery crosses posterior to the bone, approaching the knee along its medial side. This vessel then gives off a single branch in the form of the descending genicular artery, whose subsequent branches surround and supply blood to the knee joint. These are found beneath the superficial femoral along the medial aspect of the knee, encapsulating the distal or lower femur, the proximal or upper tibia, and the patella or kneecap.

The continuation of the superficial femoral artery, after passing through the adductor magnus muscle, becomes the popliteal artery behind the knee joint. It is named for the oblique muscle found here, a muscle that is responsible for unlocking the knee joint. A major vessel that passes vertically down the center of the back of the knee, the popliteal artery splits into the anterior and posterior tibial arteries at the top of the lower leg. This vessel and its branches, which include the tibial arteries, the sural artery, and multiple lower branches of the genicular artery, go on to provide blood to the knee joint as well as to several muscles of the calf.

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