Abstract Background Critical hand ischaemia (CHI) due to pure below-the-elbow (BTE) artery obstruction is a disabling disease and there is still no consensus concerning the most appropriate revascularisation strategy. The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility, safety and outcomes of percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) in the treatment of CHI due to pure BTE artery disease. Methods and results Twenty-eight patients (age 62 ± 11 years; three females) with a total of 34 hands affected by CHI (one pain at rest; 18 non-healing ulcer; 15 gangrene) due to pure BTE artery disease underwent PTA. Most of the patients were males with a long history of diabetes mellitus, end-stage renal disease (ESRD) on haemodialysis and systemic atherosclerosis. The interosseous artery was free of disease in all cases, whereas the radial and ulnar arteries were simultaneously involved in 31/34 hands with long stenosis/occlusions (91%; mean length 155 ± 64 mm). The technical success rate was 82% (28/34), with only three minor complications. In the three cases with a functioning radial arteriovenous fistula, we successfully treated the ulnar artery. PTA was unsuccessful in 18% (6/34) hands due to inability to cross severely calcified lesions. The hand-healing rate was 65% (22/34). The predictors of hand healing were PTA technical success (odds ratio (OR) 0.5, confidence interval (CI) 0.28–0.88; p ≤ 0.0001) and digital run-off (OR 0.37, CI 0.19–0.71; p ≤ 0.003). The mean follow-up period was 13 ± 9 months. Six patients (18%) underwent secondary procedures due to symptomatic restenosis. In all these cases, a successful re-PTA was performed at a mean 6 months after the index procedure, and there were no major procedure-related events. Ten patients (36%) died during follow-up. Conclusions Angioplasty of BTE vessels for CHI is a feasible and safe procedure with acceptable rates of technical success and hand healing. Poor digital run-off due to obstructive disease of the digital vessels can reduce the hand-healing rate after a successful PTA. Pure isolated BTE vessel disease seems to characterise patients with ESRD and diabetes mellitus.