Spanning from the groin to the leg and stopping at the knee is the femoral artery. This artery carries oxygen-rich blood to each of your legs. The health of the femoral artery determines the health of lower body tissues.

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Femoral artery… Odds are you’ve heard of this big, bad blood transporter.

But unless you’re a cardiologist, you probably couldn’t explain what the femoral artery does or where it’s located. No dig intended — with over 30 combined veins and arteries in the body, you’re more than forgiven for not knowing the stats on a specific one.

This handy explainer is here to answer all your femoral artery questions. Read on for an in-depth look at all things femoral artery.

The femoral artery originates just beneath the surface of the crease in your groin and extends down each leg, explains cardiothoracic surgeon Steven Gundry, MD, founder and director of the International Heart and Lung Institute in Palm Springs, California, and author of “The Energy Paradox: What to Do When Your Get-Up-and-Go Has Got Up and Gone.”

Its primary purpose? To carry oxygenated blood to each of your legs.

As a refresher: There’s oxygenated blood (red blood) and deoxygenated blood (blue blood).

Oxygenated blood is rich in, well, oxygen and nutrients like glucose, amino acids, and vitamins that act as “food” for your tissues. Deoxygenated blood, on the other hand, is made up of bodily waste.

Meaning, the femoral artery’s main role is to carry fuel to the tissues in the lower body.

Put simply, the femoral artery originates in the groin and runs down each leg, stopping right around the knee. (At the knee, the femoral artery becomes the popliteal artery).

If you want to feel your femoral artery working, Gundry says there’s a little trick you can try.

Ready? Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch just inside of your hip bone. Run your fingers up and down that area.

According to Gundry, you’ll eventually be able to feel a place that’s thrumming. “That’s the feel of your pulse going to your femoral artery,” he explains.

Anatomically speaking, the femoral artery sits right next to the femoral vein, says Gundry. The femoral vein is in charge of carrying deoxygenated blood from the legs back toward the heart, he says.

Also near the femoral artery is one of the major nerves to the leg: the femoral nerve. “The femoral nerve runs near the femoral artery, carrying information to and from the spinal cord and brain to some of the skin and muscles of the leg,” he explains.

The femoral artery crosses the femoral vein and femoral nerve in such a way as to form a triangle near the groin region. This portion is known as the “femoral triangle” or “Scarpa’s triangle.”

It serves as a crucial anatomical landmark for surgeons when surgery needs to be performed in the region. Basically, this spot is to surgeons what a lighthouse is to sailors.

There are also multiple lymph nodes and lymph vessels all contained within this general area.

“All these structures (the femoral artery, the femoral vein, the femoral nerve, and the surrounding lymph nodes and lymph vessels) are wrapped in the femoral sheath,” notes Gundry.

“The main purpose of the femoral artery is to carry oxygenated blood to the lower part of the body so that this part of the body can get the nutrients it needs for health,” says Gundry.

This artery branches off into 6 smaller arteries, each of which is in charge of bringing blood to a different body part.

These smaller arteries include:

  1. Descending genicular artery. Located along the edge of the body, the descending genicular artery is in charge of getting blood to the knee and abductor muscles.
  2. Profunda femoris artery. The largest branch, the profunda femoris artery is responsible for getting blood to the buttocks and thigh area.
  3. Superficial epigastric. This supplies blood to some of the lower body fascia, lymph nodes, and skin.
  4. Superficial circumflex iliac. It also supplies blood to some of the lower body fascia, lymph nodes, and skin.
  5. Superficial external pudendal. This supplies the lower abdominal skin as well as the penile, scrotal, or labial skin with blood.
  6. Deep external pudendal arteries. Another source for the privates, this artery supplies the skin of the perineum as well as the skin of the scrotum or labium majus.

Oh, and fun fact: Embalmers also use the femoral artery to supply chemicals to the body to preserve it after death. The more you know!

Good question! Like other arteries in the body, the femoral artery can be a site of plaque buildup, blood clots, or aneurysms.

“The femoral artery is often a site of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque that can cause blockage or slowing of blood flow to the muscles of the leg,” explains Gundry.

Many people don’t experience symptoms with atherosclerosis and don’t know that they’ve developed the condition unless they experience a heart attack or stroke.

If someone does experience symptoms, however, they usually include:

  • poor wound healing
  • cold extremities
  • gangrene of the toes
  • change in sensation

The femoral artery can also lead to a phenomenon called intermittent claudication, adds Gundry.

“This is a condition marked by pain or cramping in legs or calf muscles when walking that subsides if someone stops and rests for a few minutes but returns again when walking,” he says.

If this sounds familiar, he recommends talking with a healthcare professional. “This is a telltale sign of poor blood flow in the femoral artery,” he says.

The femoral artery plays an important role in the health of your lower body tissues.

So do your health a favor and prioritize the health of your femoral artery — and the health of your other blood sources — by limiting alcohol intake and drug use, creating a movement practice, eating a well-balanced diet, and talking to a professional if you notice anything off with your body.

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.