Venous Drainage of the Upper Limb

Original Author: Oliver Jones
Last Updated: January 19, 2017
Revisions: 29

The venous system of the upper limb drains deoxygenated blood from the arm, forearm and hand. It can anatomically be divided into the superficial veins and the deep veins.

In this article, we shall look at the anatomy of the upper limb veins – their anatomical course, structure, and their clinical relevance.


Fig 1.0 - The superficial veins of the upper limb.

Fig 1.0 – The superficial veins of the upper limb.

Superficial Veins

The major superficial veins of the upper limb are the cephalic and basilic veins. As their name suggests, they are located within the subcutaneous tissue of the upper limb.

The basilic vein originates from the dorsal venous network of the hand. It ascends the medial aspect of the upper limb. At the border of the teres major, the vein moves deep into the arm. Here, it combines with the brachial veins to form the axillary vein.

The cephalic vein arises from the dorsal venous network of the hand. It ascends the antero-lateral aspect of the upper limb, passing anteriorly at the elbow. At the shoulder, the cephalic vein travels between the deltoid and pectoralis major muscles (known as the deltopectoral groove), and enters the axilla region via the clavipectoral triangle. Within the axilla, the cephalic vein terminates by joining the axillary vein.

At the elbow, the cephalic and basilic veins are connected by the median cubital vein.


Deep Veins

The deep veins of the upper limb are situated underneath the deep fascia.

They are paired veins that accompany and lie either side of an artery. The brachial veins are the largest in size, and are situated either side of the brachial artery. The pulsations of the brachial artery assists the venous return. Veins that are structured in this way are known as vena comitantes.

Perforating veins run between the deep and superficial veins of the upper limb, connecting the two systems.

Fig 1.1 - The major deep veins of the upper limb.

Fig 1.1 – The major deep veins of the upper limb.

Clinical Relevance: Venepuncture

Venepuncture is the practice of obtaining intravenous access. This can be for intravenous therapy or obtaining a blood sample.

The main vein used in venepuncture is the median cubital vein. It is a superficial vein that is situated anteriorly at the cubital fossa region. It is commonly used due to its accessible and superficial position.

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At what point does the basilic vein move deep in the arm?

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Which vein does the cephalic vein drain into?

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What are the deep veins of the arm situated beneath?

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What name is given to the arrangement of accompanying veins around an artery?

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