A pulse is the rhythmic pulsations produced by a person's beating heart as waves of blood circulate through and expand the arteries of the body. When the artery that is expanded by these rhythmic beats is the femoral artery, the pulsations that can be palpated are referred to as the femoral pulse. The femoral artery is a very large blood vessel that supplies the thigh with oxygenated blood, a fact that causes some people to think that the femoral pulse would be stronger than other pulses of the body. It is, however, the most difficult pulse to locate, and it usually does not feel very strong.
Pulses derive their names from the specific artery that is compressed over a specific bone. For example, the pulse is produced by the femoral artery being compressed over the femur, which is the thigh bone. Although the presence of a pulse is a vital sign, the femoral pulse is hardly ever checked to verify whether someone is alive. The carotid or radial pulse is instead verified as a sign of life. A femoral pulse, however, assures that oxygenated blood is reaching the thigh.
It is correct to say that a person has two femoral pulses, one for each thigh. Pulsations can be palpated in the crease between the abdomen and either side of the groin area depending on which one is being located. If an individual is obese, it generally is extremely difficult to palpate his or her femoral pulse. The femoral artery supplies oxygen-rich blood to the thigh, with the blood coming from the heart, not flowing toward it. The femoral vein is the vessel through which blood returns to the heart.
Although it is the thigh that is "fed" blood by this major artery, the lower leg also is nourished, because the artery branches or forks out as it travels down the thigh. When blood vessels branch, however, their names also change. This helps health care providers pinpoint a specific area of the body at any given time. The absence of or the weakness of this pulse would alert health care providers of the need to verify the pulses of the ankle and the foot, because they are distal to the thigh. Cases of severe bleeding from the femoral artery might require pressure to be applied to the area of this pulse to control the bleeding.