Pulse Diagnosis

What is the pulse diagnosis for?

One of the most important diagnostic tools of the acupuncture practitioner is feeling the pulse at the radial artery on the wrist. If you have had an acupuncture treatment you may not have been surprised when your practitioner took your pulse. After all it is common practice for GPs as a way to measure heart beats per minute. What may have surprised you, however, was when your acupuncturist then took your other hand and repeated the procedure all over again! So what is going on here?

When the GP measures your pulse they may be checking on your fitness level or perhaps how well your heart is performing. Or they may be trying to investigate the cause of symptoms such as dizziness or fainting. The key point is that all these investigations are related to the activity of the heart.

What does the acupuncturist feel for?

In Chinese medicine the pulse diagnosis, or more accurately, pulses, offer a more comprehensive picture of the overall health of the patient. The acupuncturist is not taking simply one pulse but is actually investigating twelve different pulses. Pay close attention to the position and pressure of the practitioners fingers when they take your pulse. You will notice that they press onto the pulse in three different positions on the wrist and at two different depths! This is then repeated on the other wrist.

The energetic quality of the organs

The six dipulse positionsfferent positions relate to the major organs of the body in Chinese Medicine; the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, spleen, and the pericardium which is the outer sheath of the heart.


These are the important Yin organs and the practitioner measures both the quantity and quality of the Chi (energy) that is flowing through them. This way the practitioner measures essence the strength of these organs, and determines as to whether an organ needs more energy, or whether there is too much energy and the organ needs sedating.

As well as feeling these six organs in six different positions at the wrist, you may note that the practitioner also presses first lightly in each position and then a little harder. This second press enables the practitioner to read the condition of the Chi in the corresponding Yang organs of the body. The Yang organs are the large intestine, small intestine, stomach, gall bladder, bladder, and an energetic organ that regulates the temperature of the body known as the Triple Heater.

Each Yin and Yang organ corresponds to an acupuncture meridian and the acupuncture points on the meridian. After feeling the energy in the organs the practitioner will then choose which acupuncture points to needle. After the points have been needled, at the end of the treatment they may then check the pulses again to ensure that the needling has successfully effected the energy in the organs.

The pulses, therefore, not only give the practitioner a wealth of diagnostic information they also serve as a feedback loop to determine the effectiveness of the needling.

Pulse diagnosis is an art that takes years to learn and allows for much more information to be determined by the practitioner than there is time to explain in this short blog. However, I hope the next time your acupuncturist touches your wrist at the radial pulse you will have a little more idea of what is going on.

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