The Anatomy of the Small Saphenous Vein

Located in the Lower Leg

Human, who had been elevated from chair, holding his palm over calf

Shidlovski / Getty Images

The small saphenous vein is a blood vessel in the lower leg. It starts from two veins in the foot and runs up the leg. Aside from the large saphenous vein, the small saphenous vein is one of the leg's major venous blood vessels.

The small saphenous vein is also known as the lesser saphenous vein. Other names include:

  • Short saphenous vein
  • Lesser saphenous vein
  • External saphenous vein

What Is a Vein?

Veins are blood vessels that return deoxygenated blood to the heart. The heart sends the blood to the lungs to be oxygenated, and then the oxygenated blood is pumped out from the heart to circulate throughout the body via the arteries. The blue lines you see on your inner wrists are veins.


The small saphenous vein is a large superficial vein that is connected to the larger saphenous vein. 


The small saphenous vein travels from the foot, over the outer portion of the ankle, up through the calf, and eventually merges with another vein near the knee called the popliteal vein. It is located very close to the surface of the skin.

Anatomical Variations 

In a tiny percentage of the population, people have more than one small saphenous vein. In some people, the vein also drains elsewhere than the popliteal vein. For example, a rare variation involves the termination of the small saphenous vein into the femoral vein.


The small saphenous vein's primary function is to receive deoxygenated blood from the lower legs and return it to the heart. Blood from the small saphenous vein typically drains into the popliteal vein located around the knee.

Clinical Significance 

A common condition associated with the small saphenous vein is varicose veins. When the valves in the saphenous vein become faulty, venous insufficiency occurs. This can cause:

  • The obvious appearance of veins on the surface of the skin
  • Pain
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Itching 
  • Burning 
  • Discoloration of the legs 

When venous insufficiency becomes a chronic problem, the saphenous vein can be shut down via endovenous ablation or removed with traditional vein stripping. This can also be performed for cosmetic reasons.

You’re more likely to develop varicose veins if you have a family history of the condition. Anything that causes increased pressure in your veins can cause varicose veins. Some things that may contribute to varicose vein development include:

  • Being overweight
  • Advanced age
  • Inactivity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Hormonal birth control
  • Injury 

Females are more likely to develop varicose veins compared to males.

Sometimes, surgeons transplant the small saphenous vein elsewhere in the body. An example of a type of surgery where this vein is harvested is coronary bypass surgery.

Blood clots can also form in the small saphenous vein. When a clot involves a vein, it’s called superficial thrombophlebitis. People with varicose veins often develop this type of clot. You can also develop this kind of blood clot if you have a condition that limits blood flow. If you’re pregnant or immobile because of an illness, you may also develop these clots. 

In severe cases, a life-threatening infection can accompany this type of clot. People who inject drugs into their veins have a higher risk of developing a severe infection due to a venous blood clot. 

If you have a superficial blood clot of the small saphenous vein, you may experience pain, redness, and swelling. The skin in your leg may also feel hot to the touch.

Treatment for this condition involves elevating the legs, resting, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling. If you also develop an infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.

Know the Difference

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg. You can’t see these veins on the surface of your skin. It’s not the same as a superficial clot and requires emergency treatment. Sometimes the only signs of DVT are those of a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a clot in the leg travels to the lungs.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Blood vessels: illustrations

  2. Radiopaedia. Small saphenous vein

  3. Shetty P, D'Souza MR, Nayak SB. An unusual course and termination of small saphenous vein: a case report. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016;10(3):AD01-AD2. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2016/17875.7335

  4. Radiopaedia. Venous drainage of the lower limb

  5. Johns Hopkins Medical. Varicose veins

  6. Jimenez, J C, et al. Endoscopic vein harvest. Endovascular Surgery. 2011:745-750. doi: 10.1016/B978-1-4160-6208-0.10072-2

  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Superficial thrombophlebitis.

By Steph Coelho
Steph Coelho is a freelance health and wellness writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience working on content related to health, wellness, mental health, chronic illness, fitness, sexual wellness, and health-related tech.She's written extensively about chronic conditions, telehealth, aging, CBD, and mental health. Her work has appeared in Insider, Healthline, WebMD, Greatist, Medical News Today, and more.