Chinese Pulse Diagnosis has been used for thousands of years as one of the primary diagnostic tools in Chinese Medicine. It was heavily relied on before the use of x-rays and ultrasounds, and still continues to be paramount in the recognition of disease patterns for treatment with Chinese medicine. To master this skill takes many hours of patience, study, and practice, and we are proud to have a diligent understanding of this technique at Avenue Acupuncture. Most people are probably used to getting their pulse checked by their family doctor to determine whether you have a normal rate (between 60-90 beats per minute), but this method of pulse taking can acquire much more information than simply the rate and strength.
How is Pulse Diagnosis used to diagnose?
Pulse Diagnosis is used to isolate the malfunctioning organ or system which is causing the symptoms to present themselves. Many diseases or health concerns may present similar symptoms, but upon closer inspection of the pulse, the true cause of the problem is exposed. This change is observed in the pulse, because as the function of the organ changes, it will also cause changes in the artery due to causes such as inflammation, volume of blood, or quality of blood. Pulse diagnosis is a complex process, but we will review some of the important qualities when observing the pulse:
- Position– the pulse is felt at 3 positions on the wrist, and each position is associated with a different organ in the body. They are summarized in the chart below. While feeling the pulse, we are looking at the quality of the pulse at each position, and thus the energetic state of each of those organs. While feeling, we will characterize the pulse position according to the other pulse qualities listed below.
- Depth– there are 3 positions the pulse can be felt at, superficial, middle, and deep. The depth of the pulse usually indicates the extent to which a disease has penetrated within the body. For example; if while the pulse at the lung position is felt only at the superficial level and not in the middle or deep, it will indicate the person has a cold or flu. Another example; if the pulse at the kidney position is only felt at the very deep levels by pressing down hard, this can indicate chronic back pain. The inflammation resulting in back pain cause dead blood cells to accumulate, resulting in a deep sunken pulse in the kidney pulse, since the muscles surrounding the lower back are next to the kidneys.
- Strength– pulse strength can be characterized as strong, medium, or weak. The strength refers to the force or amplitude at which the pulse hits the fingers. Ideally, a pulse should be strong, but not too strong. Strength usually indicates the level of functioning. For example, if the pulse at the stomach position is felt as very strong or pounding, it may indicate acid reflux. Another example, if the pulse of the left kidney position is weak and there is little force hitting the fingers, it may indicate weakened kidney function resulting in frequent or night urination.
- Width– the width of the pulse can be categorized as wide, normal, or thin. This is typically a factor of the dampness or water retention levels within the body. If there is increased water retention then it may press on the vessels causing the artery to feel thinner. It may also indicate a weakened energy, immune, or digestive system, decreasing the pressure to which the blood can flow through the artery, thus causing it to feel thin. Conversely, a wide pulse may be the result of a chronic pathogen.
- Quality– the pulse may also have a certain “feel” or “texture” upon palpation. Each quality will reflect a different disorder or imbalance. In Chinese Medicine, we have identified 29 different pulse types (some of which have been described already), but the more common pulse qualities are:
- Wiry– the pulse feels like a guitar string, very tight, straight, long, with distinct borders. Typically this refers to irregular liver function, or a retained pathogen in the liver.
- Slippery– the blood is felt smoothly through the artery, almost as if small pearls were flowing through beneath your fingers. Typically indicating retained pathogens, phlegm congestion, or dampness retention. For example, a slippery pulse in the stomach position can indicate severe indigestion or a stomach flu. Typically, pregnant women will also have a slippery pulse, and depending on which hand the slippery pulse is felt will help determine the gender of the baby.
- Knotted- feels slow with irregular pauses. This may indicate a heart condition ,such as a murmur, which causes the irregularity in the heart rhythm. It may also indicate a physical blockage caused by blood stagnation, a mass, or a tumor.
- Surging– this pulse will appear very strong when it first hits your fingers (the systole), but will seem to leave very weak on the down beat (the diastole). Typically indicative of a loss of body fluids or blood caused by diarrhea, heavy menstruation, or heavy bleeding.
- Scattered– this pulse appears to have no borders and will easily become irregular once any pressure is applied. This usually indicates a longstanding, chronic condition.
Pulse Diagnosis in the Clinic
So as you can see, Chinese Pulse Diagnosis is a complex skill set. However, if employed properly will help yield even greater clinical results. We are able to more thoroughly recognize disease patterns apart from the symptoms. As an example, at the clinic one week we had three different patients who all came in for the treatment of asthma. From their symptoms of difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest oppression and lowered lung capacity, they all seemed like the same case. However, upon taking the pulse, each had a different cause, or associated dysfunction, for the asthma. Thus each was given a different acupuncture and herbal prescription to help.