Pulse Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

Pulse diagnosis has been practiced by acupuncturists for centuries, and is considered an essential part of diagnosis in traditional Chinese Medicine. Pulse diagnosis is difficult to master and is considered somewhat subjective by many Western physicians, but is an important diagnostic tool to us for many reasons.

Patients can tell you many things and disclose a lot of information about their current state of health, diet, lifestyle, etc. Sometimes, however, their bodies have a completely different story to tell. In taking a patient’s pulse, acupuncturists can gain information about a variety of bodily functions.

Pulse diagnosis can give an indication about the state of the patient’s blood and Qi, as well as identify certain areas of the body that may have deficiencies or blockages of Qi. Reading the pulse at different positions can also give insight to the health of certain organs, as shown in the picture below.

When taking the pulse, a practitioner places three fingers at each wrist, beginning at the wrist crease with the pointer finger, then middle, followed by ring finger. The amount of pressure applied ranges from superficial to deep, and the pulse rate itself is also considered.

On the right wrist, pulses are felt by the pointer finger to assess the Lung (deep) and Large Intestine (superficial). The middle finger presses deeply to feel the Spleen position, and superficially for the Stomach. The ring finger assesses the Kidney Qi (superficially) and Kidney Yang (deeply). The general quality of the pulse on the right side is associated with the strength and quality of the body’s Qi, or fluids.

The pulses on the left wrist are felt the same way, but have different organs associated with the deep and superficial palpations. The pointer finger assesses the state of the Heart (by pressing deeply) and Small Intestine (by pressing superficially). Middle finger presses deeply to feel the Liver position, and superficially for the Gallbladder. The ring finger assesses the Kidney Qi (superficially) and Kidney Yin (deeply). The general quality of the pulse on the left side is associated with the quality and flow of blood throughout the body.

After looking at the positions, we then talk about the quality of the pulse. In most Chinese Medicine textbooks, twenty-eight different pulse qualities are described. In some books, there can be up to forty! Some examples of these are: tight, floating, choppy, deep, thin, wiry, empty, or slippery.

Those words may mean nothing to a non- Chinese medicine student, so maybe a few examples would help explain some labels for different pulses. A “floating” pulse can indicate that someone has contracted an illness, and the body is working hard to fight it off. A “deep“ pulse may indicate that someone is suffering from a chronic illness, that the body has been battling for a long time. A “wiry”pulse can indicate that a person is stressed out, or experiencing pain in the body.

Hopefully this post gave you a little more insight as to what practitioners are examining when they take your pulse. Feel free to message me or add a comment if you have any questions about this topic 🙂

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