Veins from the Upper Limb and Shoulder

A set of deep veins and a set of superficial ones drain the upper limb. The deep veins generally parallel the arteries in each region and are given similar names, such as the radial vein, ulnar vein, brachial vein, and axillary vein. The superficial veins connect in complex networks just beneath the skin. They also communicate with the deep vessels of the upper limb, providing many alternate pathways through which the blood can leave the tissues (fig. 15.55).

Main Veins Upper Limb
The main veins of the upper limb and shoulder.

The main vessels of the superficial network are the basilic and cephalic veins. They arise from anastomoses in the hand and wrist on the ulnar and radial sides, respectively.

The basilic vein passes along the back of the forearm on the ulnar side for a distance and then curves forward to the anterior surface below the elbow. It continues ascending on the medial side until it reaches the middle of the arm. There it penetrates the tissues deeply and joins the brachial vein. As the basilic and brachial veins merge, they form the axillary vein.

The cephalic vein courses upward on the lateral side of the upper limb from the hand to the shoulder. In the shoulder, it pierces the tissues and empties into the axillary vein. Beyond the axilla, the axillary vein becomes the subclavian vein.

In the bend of the elbow, a median cubital vein ascends from the cephalic vein on the lateral side of the forearm to the basilic vein on the medial side. This large vein is usually visible. It is often used as a site for venipuncture, when it is necessary to remove a sample of blood for examination or to add fluids to the blood.

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