Aim: Compressed air massage is a new treatment modality that uses air under pressure to massage skin and muscle. It is claimed to improve skin blood flow but this has not been verified. Several pilot studies were undertaken to determine the effects of compressed air massage on skin blood flow and temperature.
Methods: Skin blood flow (SBF), measured using laser Doppler fluxmetry and skin temperature was recorded under several different situations: (i) treatment, at 1 Bar pressure using a single-hole (5-mm) applicator head, for 1 min at each of several sites on the right and left lower legs, with SBF measured on the dorsum of the left foot; (ii) at the same treatment pressure, SBF was measured over the left tibialis anterior when treatment was performed at different distances from the probe; (iii) SBF and skin temperature of the lower leg were measured with treatment at 0 or 1 Bar for 45 min, using two different applicator heads; (iv) SBF was measured on the dorsum of the foot of 10 subjects with treatment for 1 min at 0, 0.5, 1, 1.5 and 2 Bar using three different applicator heads.
Results: (i) SBF of the left foot was not altered by treatment of the right leg or chest, but was significantly increased during treatment of the left sole and first web, p < 0.0001. (ii) SBF over the tibialis anterior was increased when treatment was 5 cm from the probe, p < 0.0001, but not when 10 cm away. iii) SBF was significantly elevated throughout the 45-min treatments at 1 Bar and returned to normal within 1 min of stopping treatment. Skin temperature fell by 6.8 degrees C and 4.3 degrees C after 45-min treatments at 1 Bar, and slight rewarming occurred within 15 min. At 0 Bar, no change in SBF or temperature was noted. (iv) A near-linear increase in SBF was noted with increasing treatment pressure for two of the three applicator heads.
Conclusion: Compressed air massage causes an immediate increase in SBF, and an immediate fall in SBF when treatment is stopped. The effect appears to be locally and not centrally mediated and is related to the pressure used. Treatment cools the skin for at least 15 min after a 45-min treatment.