Pressure ulcers are common debilitating complications of diabetes that are caused by tissue ischemia. Skin blood flow in response to locally applied pressure might be impaired in diabetic patients because of the combined effects of a typically low skin temperature and alterations in microcirculatory function, and could be worsened by neuropathy. We measured skin blood flow by laser Doppler flowmetry over the internal anklebone in response to local pressure applied at 5.0 mmHg/min in three groups of diabetic patients (with clinical and subclinical neuropathy and without neuropathy) and in healthy matched control subjects at usual room temperature. Compared with in matched control subjects with comparable skin temperatures (29.3 +/- 0.4 vs. 28.7 +/- 0.4 degrees C), in diabetic patients the skin blood flow response to locally applied pressure was further impeded, even in those without neuropathy. Indeed, skin blood flow decreased significantly from baseline at much lower applied pressure (7.5 mmHg) in diabetic subjects, again even in those without neuropathy, than in control subjects (48.8 mmHg). The large difference between these pressures could partially explain diabetic patients' high risk of developing decubitus and plantar ulcers.