Compressed Air Foot Massage for Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Diabetic Foot wrapped in a bandage
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Over a lifetime, a person diagnosed with diabetes has a 15% to 25% chance of developing a foot ulcer (open sore). Some foot ulcers can take a long time to heal. Compressed air foot massage is not a new treatment, but it has gained attention as a possible way to help decrease the time it takes to heal a diabetic foot ulcer. Learn more about compressed air foot massage and how it can help in treating diabetic foot ulcers.

What is Compressed Air Foot Massage?

Compressed air massage works similar to filling a car tire with air except the air goes on your skin and not in a tire. The compressed air massage machine is made of an electrical air compressor that feeds air into two reservoir tanks that have medical air filters, which include a pressure regulator valve, pressure tubing, and many different applicator heads. The compressed air is forced by the compressor into the first reservoir tank and the air is filtered. The regulator valve controls the pressure as the air moves from the first reservoir tank into the second reservoir tank. The air then moves into pressure tubing, which is connected to the chosen applicator head. The metal applicator head is then used to massage the foot. The compressed air flows through the applicator head and supplements the massage. The applicator head may have several small holes to provide a more superficial massage or a single 5mm hole to give a deep massage.

How Does It Work?

It is thought that compressed air massage helps improve local skin blood flow and reduce edema (swelling). One research study found that compressed air massage causes an immediate increase in skin blood flow during treatment and an immediate decrease in skin blood flow when the treatment stopped.

They also found that compressed air massage causes a decrease in skin temperature that lasts for about 15 minutes after a 45-minute treatment. It appeared that a single 5mm hole in the applicator head was the most effective at increasing blood flow to the skin. Changes in blood flow to the skin were also affected by the amount of air pressure used. The increase in skin blood flow was seen up to 4 cm from the treatment site. Any further away than that and no increase in skin blood flow was seen.

Compressed Air Foot Massage and Diabetics

Another study was done involving 57 diabetic patients with foot ulcers. The patients were put in two groups. Both groups received standard treatment involving medical and surgical care for their foot ulcers. One group (28 patients) also received compressed air foot massage for 15 to 20 minutes per day at a pressure of 1 bar (unit of pressure) or 100 kPa (kilopascal). They used an applicator head with many small holes. Their results showed that the group receiving compressed air foot massage healed their foot ulcers about 24 days faster than the group that did not receive compressed air foot massage.

The authors of the research study feel that compressed air foot massage is a safe and simple treatment that can be used with the standard treatments of medical care (such as topical medications) or surgery (if medical treatment does not help and infection worsens). This care can help decrease the time it takes to heal diabetic foot ulcers. They also feel more research studies need to be done.


Singh N, Armstrong DG, Lipsky BA. Preventing foot ulcers in patients with diabetes. JAMA. 2005 Jan 12;293(2):217-28.

Mars M, Desai Y, Gregory MA. Compressed air massage hastens healing of the diabetic foot. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2008 Feb;10(1):39-45.

Mars M, Maharaj SS, Tufts M. The effect of compressed air massage on skin blood flow and temperature. Cardiovasc J S Afr. 2005 Jul-Aug;16(4):215-9.

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