Currently, no effective pharmacological treatment is available for vascularisation defects in lower limbs. Many patients presenting with persistent pain and ischaemic ulcers are not suitable candidates for surgical or endovascular approaches. Further refinement of the available methods will undoubtedly lead to a more active approach towards treatment of peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD). Recently, therapeutic angiogenesis, in the form of recombinant growth factor administration or gene therapy, has emerged as a novel tool to treat these patients. However, improved gene transfer methods and better understanding of blood vessel formation are required to bring therapeutic angiogenesis to clinical practice. Here we review the clinical problem (PAOD), mechanisms of blood vessel formation (angiogenesis, vasculogenesis and arteriogenesis), experimental evidence and clinical trials for therapeutic angiogenesis in critically ischaemic lower limbs. Also, angiogenic growth factors, including vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGFs) and fibroblast growth factors (FGFs), delivery methods, and vectors for gene transfer in skeletal muscle, are discussed. In addition to vascular growth, gene transfer of growth factors may enhance regeneration, survival, and innervation of ischaemic skeletal muscle. Nitric oxide (NO) appears to be a key mediator in vascular homeostasis and growth, and a reduction in its production by age, hypercholesterolemia or diabetes leads to the impairment of ischaemic disorders.