Methods for the determination of skeletal muscle blood flow: development, strengths and limitations

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018 Jun;118(6):1081-1094. doi: 10.1007/s00421-018-3880-5. Epub 2018 May 14.


Since the first measurements of limb blood flow at rest and during nerve stimulation were conducted in the late 1800s, a number of methods have been developed for the determination of limb and skeletal muscle blood flow in humans. The methods, which have been applied in the study of aspects such as blood flow regulation, oxygen uptake and metabolism, differ in terms of strengths and degree of limitations but most have advantages for specific settings. The purpose of this review is to describe the origin and the basic principles of the methods, important aspects and requirements of the procedures. One of the earliest methods, venous occlusion plethysmography, is a noninvasive method which still is extensively used and which provides similar values as other more direct blood flow methods such as ultrasound Doppler. The constant infusion thermodilution method remains the most appropriate for the determination of blood flow during maximal exercise. For resting blood flow and light-to-moderate exercise, the non-invasive ultrasound Doppler methodology, if handled by a skilled operator, is recommendable. Positron emission tomography with radiolabeled water is an advanced method which requires highly sophisticated equipment and allows for the determination of muscle-specific blood flow, regional blood flows and estimate of blood flow heterogeneity within a muscle. Finally, the contrast-enhanced ultrasound method holds promise for assessment of muscle-specific blood flow, but the interpretation of the data obtained remains uncertain. Currently lacking is high-resolution methods for continuous visualization and monitoring of the skeletal muscle microcirculation in humans.

Keywords: Dye dilution; Exercise hyperemia; Xenon clearance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Perfusion Imaging / methods*
  • Plethysmography / methods
  • Regional Blood Flow*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler / methods*