Femoral Artery Structure and Function

Medically Reviewed By Kevin Martinez, M.D.

The femoral artery is a large artery in the thigh that starts near the groin and travels down the leg to the knee. The femoral artery provides oxygenated blood to the lower body. This article describes the location and function of the femoral artery and the structure of arteries. This article also discusses the health conditions and surgical procedures associated with the femoral artery.

Femoral artery location and anatomy

Female gymnast doing handstand flip on balance beam
David Prado/Stocksy United

The femoral artery extends Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source from the iliac artery, specifically the external iliac artery. The iliac artery starts in the hip and branches into the internal and external iliac arteries.

Also called the common femoral artery, this vessel is about 4 centimeters (cm) long in the average adult. The femoral artery is in the upper thigh near the groin. The femoral artery, vein, and nerve lie together and are known as the femoral triangle. 

Further down in the leg, the femoral artery divides into two vessels: the superficial femoral artery and the deep femoral artery. 

As the superficial femoral artery travels down the leg, it branches into the descending genicular artery, which delivers blood to part of the knee. As the superficial femoral artery continues down the leg, it branches off to provide blood to the muscles in the thigh. At the knee, the name of the artery changes to the popliteal artery, which feeds blood to the rest of the knee compartment. Other arteries branch off to supply blood to the lower leg and foot.

The deep femoral artery branches into the smaller medial and lateral circumflex arteries. These arteries feed the femur bone and hip before ending in the thigh. 

Femoral artery structure

Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the tissues of the body. Arterial walls consist of three layers of connective tissue and smooth muscle. The muscle layers allow for changes in the diameter of the blood vessel. The femoral artery diameter is 1.02 cm Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source at its proximal end, which starts at the external iliac artery. The diameter is 0.77 cm at the distal end, at the popliteal artery.

The inside of an artery is an open tube called a lumen. This is where the blood flows. 

Femoral artery function and associated conditions

The femoral artery has the vital function Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of delivering nutrients and oxygenated blood to all tissues in the leg. These tissues include skin, muscles, and nerves. As a result, conditions involving the femoral artery and its branches can cause health problems.

Following is a summary of health conditions involving the femoral artery. These conditions include atherosclerosis, blood clots, aneurysm, and injury.

Peripheral artery disease

The femoral artery is a common location for peripheral artery disease (PAD), also called peripheral arterial disease. PAD is a blockage or narrowing of the blood vessels. The usual cause of PAD Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source is a buildup of fatty plaque on the internal walls of the vessel. This is atherosclerosis. PAD can occur in any blood vessel, but it is more common in the arms and legs.

Risk factors for developing PAD include:

Treatment of PAD includes taking medications to control cholesterol and to prevent blood clots from forming. Sometimes surgery is needed to bypass a clogged blood vessel.

Blood clots

You may know about deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in a deep vein of the leg. Although not as common as DVT, a blood clot can also develop in the femoral artery Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . This can cut off circulation to the leg.

Factors that put a person at higher risk of developing a blood clot include:

  • injury to a blood vessel, such as from a bone fracture or muscle injury
  • confinement or limited movement, such as from bed rest or travel
  • increased estrogen, such as from birth control pills or pregnancy
  • chronic illness, such as heart disease or cancer
  • blood clotting disorders
  • PAD
  • personal or family history of DVT

Treatment of thrombosis includes taking a blood thinner while the clot dissolves over time. Surgery to remove the clot may be necessary.

Learn more about types of blood clots here.

Learn about blood disorders here.

Aneurysm

An aneurysm is a widened area of a blood vessel involving one or more layers of the vessel wall. Femoral aneurysms are not common Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . Signs of a femoral aneurysm include a bulge in the groin, leg swelling, and pain. Femoral aneurysm repair may be an option, especially for a large aneurysm or one causing symptoms.

Injury

Being in an accident that cuts the femoral artery is serious. It can result in significant blood loss and other complications Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , such as compartment syndrome and amputation.

Procedures involving the femoral artery

Surgeons and other specialists perform a variety of procedures on or involving the femoral artery. These procedures include treatment of femoral artery conditions, as well as using the artery in the treatment of other conditions.

Femoral popliteal bypass

Femoral popliteal bypass is a treatment for PAD or intermittent claudication, which is leg pain caused by PAD. The surgeon takes part of a superficial vein in the leg and grafts it in place to reroute blood flow around a blocked artery. An alternative method is to use a synthetic tube for the graft. Femoral popliteal bypass restores blood flow with the goal of saving the limb and reducing PAD symptoms.

Endovascular procedures

Sometimes surgeons put catheters through the large lumen of the femoral artery in the groin to gain access to the heart. The surgeon can then perform procedures on the heart without open heart surgery.

Learn about cardiac catheterization here.

Endovascular angioplasty

During this procedure, a surgeon places a tiny balloon or stent in a clogged artery to help restore healthy blood flow through the vessel.

Other frequently asked questions

Below are some questions people often ask about the femoral artery.

Can you survive if your femoral artery is cut?

With a tourniquet around the upper thigh to stop bleeding until medical help arrives, a person can survive their femoral artery being cut. Survival may depend on the location of the cut along the artery. Direct pressure above the injury is necessary. It may be difficult to apply pressure with a tourniquet if it involves the very beginning (proximal end) of the femoral artery (at the groin), explains a 2012 review article on femoral artery injuries.

The intervention, whether with tourniquet, direct pressure, or surgery, must be fast as the person can lose a life threatening amount of blood and go into shock. 

How deep under the skin is the femoral artery?

How deep the femoral artery sits in a person depends on how much subcutaneous fat the person has in their legs. For some people, it may be an inch. For others, it may be a few inches. Some people may feel the pulse of blood moving through the common femoral artery in the groin. 

Is the femoral artery in the front or back of the leg?

The femoral artery starts near the front of the Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source l Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source e Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source g Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in the groin and travels down the middle of the leg near the femur. The superficial femoral artery transitions to being behind the knee and the backside of the leg.

Summary

Your femoral artery is a major blood vessel that starts in the upper groin. The artery branches into smaller vessels to supply the entire leg with blood. The femoral artery is subject to several medical conditions and is also used in several medical procedures.

Was this helpful?
3
  1. Arterial thrombosis. (2020). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/arterial-thrombosis/
  2. Asmar, S., et al. (2021). Traumatic femoral artery injuries and predictors of compartment syndrome: A nationwide analysis [Abstract]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.g
  3. Classification and structure of blood vessels. (n.d.). https://training.seer.cancer.gov/anatomy/cardiovascular/blood/classification.html
  4. Emergencies and first aid - Direct pressure to stop bleeding. (2017). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/emergencies-and-first-aid-direct-pressure-to-stop-bleeding
  5. Lorbeer, R., et al. (2018). Reference values of vessel diameters, stenosis prevalence, and arterial variations of the lower limb arteries in a male population sample using contrast-enhanced MR angiography. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6010244/
  6. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD). (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/Phtm
  7. Ruiz, G., et al. (2012). Femoral vessel injuries; high mortality and low morbidity injuries. https://cbc.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/020912EJTES-1.pdf
  8. Saleem, T., et al. (2022). Femoral aneurysm repair. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470329/
  9. Swift, H., et al. (2021). Anatomy, bony pelvis and lower limb, femoral artery.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538262/
  10. Veyre, F., et al. (2020). Femoral arterial thrombosis in a young adult after nonsevere COVID-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7386281/
  11. What is venous thromboembolism? (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/facts.html

Medical Reviewer: Kevin Martinez, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 30
View All Vascular Conditions Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.