Left leg of a male affected by varicose veins
The great saphenous vein and landmarks along its course
How a varicose vein forms in a leg. Figure A shows a normal vein with a working valve and normal blood flow. Figure B shows a varicose vein with a deformed valve, abnormal blood flow, and thin, stretched walls. The middle image shows where varicose veins might appear in a leg.
Superficial veins draining into the great saphenous and femoral vein.
Comparison of healthy and varicose veins
Superficial veins of lower limb. Superficial dissection. Anterior view.
Great saphenous vein. Deep dissection. Anterior view.
Illustration depicting veins of the leg including great saphenous vein (anterior view).

Varicose veins: The great saphenous vein, like other superficial veins, can become varicose; swollen, twisted and lengthened, and generally considered to be unsightly. Varicose veins are not life-threatening and various treatment options are available. However, when the diameter of the vein is too large for the valves within it to coapt completely, the resulting condition, chronic venous insufficiency, can result in skin color changes in the calf and ulcers that may persist for years if the vein is not ablated.

- Great saphenous vein

Stripping consists of removal of all or part the saphenous vein (great/long or lesser/short) main trunk.

- Varicose veins
Left leg of a male affected by varicose veins

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Overall

Superficial veins become more prominent when muscles are flexed

Superficial vein

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Vein that is close to the surface of the body.

Vein that is close to the surface of the body.

Superficial veins become more prominent when muscles are flexed
Superficial veins become more prominent when muscles are flexed

Physiologically, the superficial veins are not as important as the deep veins (as they carry less blood) and are sometimes removed in a procedure called vein stripping, which is used to treat varicose veins.

great saphenous vein – often "harvested" for coronary artery bypass surgery

Small saphenous vein and its tributaries. (Small saphenous vein labeled vertically at center.)

Small saphenous vein

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Relatively large superficial vein of the posterior leg.

Relatively large superficial vein of the posterior leg.

Small saphenous vein and its tributaries. (Small saphenous vein labeled vertically at center.)
Cross-section through middle of leg
Nerves of the dorsum of the foot

The origin of the small saphenous vein, (SSV) is where the dorsal vein from the fifth digit (smallest toe) merges with the dorsal venous arch of the foot, which attaches to the great saphenous vein (GSV).

The small saphenous vein may become varicose.