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J Vasc Surg. 2002 Jan;35(1):172-5.

The saphenous vein: derivation of its name and its relevant anatomy.

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Department of Anatomy, University La Sapienza, Via Borelli 50, 00161 Rome, Italy.


Generally, when the origin of the word saphenous is discussed, most affirm that the term derives from the Greek word safaina, which means "evident." The ancient Greeks knew only the caudal portion of the vein, and neither the Greeks nor the Romans used the term saphena. In fact, the term first appeared in the writings of Avicenna. In contrast, the term saphenous is derived from the Arabic el safin, which means "hidden" or "concealed." Ancient Arabic physicians knew the anatomy of superficial veins of the human body and its extremities because they performed therapeutic bleeding. Arabic physicians phlebotomized the distal portion of the greater saphenous vein (GSV) at the ankle. Such phlebotomies were never performed on the proximal portions of the GSV because they were not superficial enough to be clearly evident. As a consequence, the proximal GSV was called el safin, or "the concealed." The modern reader will recognize that based on duplex examination, the GSV is correctly identified on the basis of its deep position with the superficial fascia covering it. This information may be useful in modern saphenous vein surgery in identifying the proximal portion of the GSV.

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