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Pulse diagnosis is a valuable tool used by TCM practitioners worldwide, however in the United States it is not widely understood or recognized largely because the medical system in this country is symptom based and also due to the ‘advancement’ of conventional medical diagnostic processes used today. However, when assessing the root cause of any disease and putting together a treatment plan there is no better tool in an acupuncturist’s toolbox.

Pulse diagnosis has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years and was used as the main tool for diagnostics before ultrasounds and x-rays became the preferred alternatives. In Chinese medicine, pulse diagnosis is not just about checking the rate and strength; there is a lot of valuable information about the patient’s health that can be derived from it.

What is the place of pulse diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine today? Do the results play into the treatment strategy used? These are legitimate questions that seek to clarify just how important pulse diagnosis is in the grand scheme of things. As one of the key elements of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it provides an understanding of the patient’s condition on many levels.

For the trained hand, pulse diagnosis reveals detailed information about the patient’s problem and clarifies anything that may seem out of place in the range of symptoms.

Pulse Diagnosis, One of the four main assessments in TCM

According to Cheng Xinnong (1993), pulse diagnosis is one of the main means of consultation in TCM. Pulse palpation is checked in three areas: guan, chi, and cun of both wrists. Through this, the general wellbeing of a person can be determined as well as the functionality of a particular organ. This information is combined with other medical assessment protocols and used to determine the right treatment for a patient.

Different characteristics of the patient’s pulse palpations are used to determine whether they are in good condition. A normal pulse indicates good blood and heart qi. Huang Huibo (2000) posits that the normal pulse is smooth, calm, and soft-though not too soft.

The palpations should also be consistent and such qualities should not fluctuate easily or regularly. A good pulse should also have a definite deep level and rear position that can be felt with certainty. This points towards kidney function as an indicator that they are healthy.

Describing pulse conditions in TCM

There are well over 30 types of pulse conditions as described by Nei Jing (1995) including slippery, long, short, large, sunken, rough, floating, string-like, hollow, slow, strong, rapid, tough, replete, moderate, soft, fine, intermittent, vacuous and weak.

These descriptions take on various names because they used to be illustrated by poems and similes. As such, they would be likened to the strum of a musical element or rolling of beads. Others are also quantitative such as rapid, floating or slow.

Using pulse diagnosis to treat disease

As aforementioned, pulse diagnosis is used to make sense of diagnosis and determine what kind of treatment to use. At our practice, we use it to understand the internal functions of the body and form the basis of treatment. We have applied it in many scenarios to identify the progression of a disease, condition of various systems and incidences of trauma. We also derive lots of other valuable information about bodily functions in general.



  • Sacred Lotus
  • InteChopen
  • Yin Yang House
  • Huang Huibo, New theory on pulse study, in International Congress on Traditional Medicine Abstracts, 2000 Academic Bureau of the Congress, Beijing.
  • Cheng Xinnong, Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1993 Foreign Languages Press, Beijing.
  • Nei Jing and Peacher WG (eds.), Shang Han Lun: The Great Classic of Chinese Medicine, 1995 Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, CA.