A new arterial distensibility measurement technique was assessed in 100 healthy normotensive subjects. Arterial transmural pressures on the whole right arm were reduced with a 50 cm long cuff inflated to 10, 20, 30 and 40 mmHg. The electrocardiogram, and finger and ear photoplethysmograms were recorded simultaneously. Arm pulse propagation time, pulse wave velocity (PWV) and arterial volume distensibility were determined. With a 40 mmHg reduction in transmural pressure, arm pulse propagation time increased from 61 to 83 ms, PWV decreased from 12 to 8 m s−1 and arterial distensibility increased from 0.102% to 0.232% per mmHg (all P < 0.0001). At all cuff pressures, arterial distensibility was significantly related to resting mean arterial pressure (MAP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP) and age, and for systolic blood pressure at 30 and 40 mmHg (all P < 0.05). At 40 mmHg cuff pressure, arterial distensibility fell by 54% for a MAP increase from 75 to 105 mmHg, 57% for a DBP increase from 60 to 90 mmHg and 47% for an age increase from 20 to 70 years. These changes were more than double than those without cuff pressure. Our technique showed that systemic volume distensibility of the peripheral arm artery reduced with age, with a greater effect at higher external and lower transmural pressures.