How Much do you Know About Your Pulse?

Most people already know that the pulse reflects heart rate, which is normally between 60-90 beats per minute. Whether it is too slow, too fast or irregular, it can indicate a possible heart problem. However, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the pulse reveals more than just heart rate. Chinese pulse diagnosis is an extremely complex subject and an important diagnostic tool. This is why we take pulse readings much longer than you normally experience at a western medical office. The following will introduce some brief concepts of Chinese Medical pulse diagnosis.

Left Wrist

Front: Heart / Small Intestine

Middle: Liver / Gall Bladder

Rear: Kidney / Bladder

Pulse diagnosis is important for two reasons – it can give very detailed information on the state of the internal organs and it reflects the whole complex of Qi, Blood Yin, Yang and frankly, every part of the body. It gives the doctor an indication of the overall constitution of a person. Just as the tongue can reflect these phenomena, so does the pulse. Pulse diagnosis is a very subtle skill. We take the pulse on the radial artery, dividing it into three sections on the wrist and detecting it at three different levels. The three wrist sections of the pulse on the radial artery are the front, middle and rear, respectively. The three levels are superficial (pressing lightly), middle (pressing a little deeper) and deep (pressing even deeper). The three levels at each of the three sections on the wrist are referred to as the “Nine Regions.”

Each pulse position can reflect different phenomena in different situations. For  example, in a state of health, the left middle pulse (Liver) will be relatively soft and smooth, neither superficial nor deep. Therefore, we can say the liver and gall bladder energies are balanced or that the Yin and Yang within the Liver/Gall Bladder sphere are balanced. If a patient is experiencing migraine headaches and her pulse feels wiry (harder or tighter than normal) and more superficial and pounding, then we may diagnose this as Excessive Liver Fire (Yang) Rising (up the Gall Bladder channel to the head). The pulse reflects the rising energy.

Again, the pulse is assessed at three different depths: a superficial, middle and deep level. These three levels of the pulse give an immediate idea of the level of Qi in the pulse and, therefore, the kind of pathological condition that might be present. In particular, the superficial level reflects the state of Qi (and the yang organ); the middle level reflects the state of Blood; the deep level reflects the state of Yin (and yin organs). Thus, by examining the strength and quality of the pulse at these three levels, we get a better idea of the pathology of Qi, Blood and Yin, and of the relative state of Yin and Yang.