Femoral Artery: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on September 01, 2022
4 min read

The femoral artery is one of the major blood vessels in your body. It carries blood to the lower half of your body. Blood circulation is an essential function since the tissues in your body need the oxygen and nutrients that blood carries. The femoral artery is important because it serves as an access point to perform different kinds of endovascular surgeries.

The femoral artery is tasked with delivering blood to your lower limbs and part of the anterior abdominal wall. This artery begins near your groin, in your upper thigh, and follows down your leg to the back of your knee. Along the way, it branches off into different sections. The artery itself runs in a straight line.

You have one femoral artery in each leg, so each artery is responsible for carrying blood to that side of the body. These arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart and deliver it where it's needed. The femoral vein runs next to the artery to return the blood without oxygen back to the heart.

The femoral artery’s function is to bring blood to the lower half of your body. It’s a continuation of another artery, the external iliac artery, which changes names when it passes through the inguinal ligament. This ligament is a fibrous band that marks the change from your pelvis to your lower limbs.

Femoral artery anatomy. The different branches of the femoral artery have different jobs to do. The first part of the femoral artery, the common femoral artery, is an extension of another artery in the pelvis called the external iliac artery. Its branches bring blood to the tissues in your pubic area, groin, and abdominal wall. The deep femoral artery branches off from the common femoral artery, bringing blood to tissues deep in your thigh. It also brings blood to your hips, buttocks, and femur. Lastly, there’s the superficial femoral artery, which also branches off from the common femoral artery. It carries blood to your lower leg, including part of your knee and the front part of your thigh.

In the top third of your thigh, there's an area called the femoral triangle. The borders of this triangle are the inguinal ligament, the adductor longus muscle, and the sartorius muscle. You can see the femoral triangle when you flex the muscles around it. The femoral artery is located in this triangle, close to the surface of your skin.

Femoral artery size. The femoral artery is 4 centimeters long and lies near the femoral head. This is the ball-shaped bone at the top of the femur bone that fits in the socket between your hip and your pelvis. While the length of the femoral artery is the same for most people, its diameter varies depending on factors like:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Ethnicity
  • Sex

On average, the common femoral artery is between 7 and 8 millimeters in diameter, considering these factors.

While you might not be able to feel pain or discomfort in the femoral artery itself, some people do feel pain in this area that could be linked to different conditions. Some symptoms that you should look out for include:

  • Leg pain when walking (claudication)
  • Numbness or weakness in your legs
  • Skin on your legs that’s shiny or changes color
  • Your lower leg or foot feeling cold, especially when you compare it to the other side of your body
  • Hair loss on your legs or hair that’s slower to grow back
  • Toenails that grow slowly
  • Sores on your legs, feet, or toes that won’t heal
  • No or weak pulse in your feet or legs
  • Pain or cramping in your hips, thighs, calves, or arms when doing low- or moderate-impact activities
  • Erectile dysfunction

If you notice these symptoms, especially if you're having trouble walking, you should speak with your doctor.

The most common condition that affects the femoral artery is peripheral artery disease (PAD). When this happens, your arteries narrow so that your blood has a harder time flowing to your arms and legs. It’s a form of cardiovascular disease since it affects your blood vessels.

PAD is usually caused by the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries, called atherosclerosis. Most people can control PAD with some lifestyle changes, but if you have a severe blockage, your doctor might recommend surgery to remove the plaque and buildup. There are two different surgeries to unblock the femoral artery, femoral popliteal bypass and percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) of the femoral arteries.

Claudication can be a symptom of PAD and causes pain in the lower half of your body when you walk. The pain can make you limp and make your legs feel tired from everyday movement. Some people feel pain lying in bed at night or simply sitting. This could be a sign that your arteries are becoming harder or more blocked, so you should talk to your doctor.

Since your femoral artery is a major blood vessel, you can keep it and your other vessels healthy by making some lifestyle changes. Not only can this help to prevent claudication and the development of PAD, but it can also help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.

If you already have PAD and are experiencing symptoms that aren’t severe enough for surgery, one of the best things you can do is get out and walk every day. Walking is a great exercise for your blood vessels. You should also stop smoking if you’re a smoker.

Other things you can do to care for your femoral artery and blood vessels include:

  • Lower your alcohol intake
  • Watch and manage your blood pressure
  • Watch your cholesterol levels
  • Eat a heart-healthy and balanced diet that’s low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight