Patient Education Blog

Arm and Leg Veins – Anatomy and Terminology

Confusion as to which veins of arms and legs are superficial and which are deep can lead to an incorrect diagnosis. As treatment of clots in superficial veins (= superficial thrombophlebitis) is different to that of clots in deep veins (DVT = deep vein thrombosis), the distinction between superficial and deep veins is important.

The health care professional, therefore, needs to have a good understanding of the anatomy and terminology used. It does not hurt if the patient himself / herself knows in which veins his/her clots were – just to double check that the diagnosis of superficial thrombophlebitis or DVT is, indeed, correct. Images 1 and 2 depict the correct terminology.

A.  Arm veins

Arm vein terminology

  • Basilic and cephalic veins are superficial veins;
  • Brachial veins are deep veins;
  • Brachial veins drain into the axillary vein, which drains into the subclavian vein, which drains into the brachiocephalic vein, followed by the SVC (superior vena cava).

B.  Leg Veins



  • Greater and lesser saphenous veins are superficial veins;
  • popliteal vein and anything proximal to it are considered a proximal veins;
  • gastrocnemius and soleal veins are intramuscular calf veins and part of the deep venous system. Together with the peroneal and tibial veins they make up the deep veins of the distal leg.
  • The “superficial femoral vein” is an outdated term. It is now called the “femoral vein”. It is the major deep vein of the thigh.

Finally, Doppler ultrasound of the legs can only visualize the veins below the groin fold (=inguinal ligament), i.e. the leg veins, but not the pelvic veins. To evaluate for pelvic veins thrombosis or narrowing (such as detection of May-Thurner syndrome), pelvic CT venogram or MRI venogram need to be performed.

Information for Health Care Professionals

This same topic, discussed for health care professionals, can be found here.

Disclosure: I have no financial conflict of interest to this blog entry.

Last updated: Jan 24th, 2011

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.