The most common method of clinical measurement of arterial blood pressure is by means of the cuff sphygmomanometer. This instrument has provided fundamental quantitative information on arterial pressure in individual subjects and in populations and facilitated estimation of cardiovascular risk related to levels of blood pressure obtained from the brachial cuff. Although the measurement is taken in a peripheral limb, the values are generally assumed to reflect the pressure throughout the arterial tree in large conduit arteries. Since the arterial pressure pulse becomes modified as it travels away from the heart towards the periphery, this is generally true for mean and diastolic pressure, but not for systolic pressure, and so pulse pressure. The relationship between central and peripheral pulse pressure depends on propagation characteristics of arteries. Hence, while the sphygmomanometer gives values of two single points on the pressure wave (systolic and diastolic pressure), there is additional information that can be obtained from the time-varying pulse waveform that enables an improved quantification of the systolic load on the heart and other central organs. This topical review will assess techniques of pressure measurement that relate to the use of the cuff sphygmomanometer and to the non-invasive registration and analysis of the peripheral and central arterial pressure waveform. Improved assessment of cardiovascular function in relation to treatment and management of high blood pressure will result from future developments in the indirect measurement of arterial blood pressure that involve the conventional cuff sphygmomanometer with the addition of information derived from the peripheral arterial pulse.