The Art of Pulse Diagnosis

One common question we get in the clinic is ‘why are you checking my pulse.” Pulse and tongue diagnosis are two of the more important diagnostic tools in Chinese Medicine. Both methods have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. We talked about tongue diagnosis in a previous newsletter and now we want to shed some light on pulse diagnosis. The pulse diagnosis can give the acupuncture a better understanding of the deeper issues, not just the acute problems. Effective pulse diagnosis is an art, it must be mastered with time and experience.

The pulse is measured at three levels and three positions on each arm. This is why an acupuncturist uses three fingers to take a wrist pulse, as apposed to a two in modern medical practice. The positions on each wrist correspond to different organs and meridians in the body. In addition to position we take note of the pulse on each level meaning the pulse on a superficial level, where we press lightly against the wrist, to the deep level where we will press firmly against the wrist.  This also can speak to the overall health of the organs, meridian and the vital energy (qi) of the body.

Certain factors influence the pulse. The strength and quality of the pulse tends to decline as a person ages. Men generally have a stronger pulse on the left side and women are generally stronger on the right. Also the change of seasons can influence the pulse, which tend to be deeper in the winter and stronger in the summer.

There are many types of pulses in traditional Chinese medicine, over 20 kinds of pulses.  Each kind of pulse can help diagnose a condition. For instance if a pulse feels empty at any position it can indicate a lack of qi or blood in the body, this is commonly seen in people with fatigue and general weakness. An empty pulse is wide but not strong, and will disappear with even slight pressure. In contrary a full pulse in any position can indicate energy (qi) that is stuck or pooling in the body, it can also be caused by other excesses such as heat or blood stasis. A full pulse is wide and strong, it is felt with strength at all levels. Another common pulse we see in the clinic is a wiry pulse. A wiry pulse is tense and thin, like a guitar string. This pulse is common in conditions affected by stress. There is also a slippery pulse. A slippery pulse has a smooth fluid like layer over the pulse which indicates excess fluid in the body, digestive issues, and can also be commonly felt in pregnant women.

If you want to know more about pulse diagnosis, or what your pulse is saying about you, just ask us next time you come in. Hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about this very traditional ritual.