Pulse diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine is unlike other forms of pulse-taking. You have certainly had the experience of going into your doctor’s office and having your heart/pulse rate checked. If the rate, which is normally between 60-90 beats per minute, was too fast, too slow, or irregular, your physician probably spoke to you about it and may have shown some concern. It is different when you visit your practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She isn’t just looking for a deviation from the ‘norm’ because in TCM, your pulse reveals much more than just your heart rate. Chinese pulse diagnosis is an incredibly complex subject and a sometimes frustrating endeavor because it is an art as well as a science. We feel not only for the rate but also for the quality, length and depth of your pulse.
Just as your tongue provides important information about the interior of your body, so does your pulse. Pulse diagnosis can give information on the state of your internal organs and reflects the health of the whole body. Pulse diagnosis requires subtlety. When I take your pulse, I place three of my fingers on three sections of the radial artery of your wrist. The three sections of the pulse that I feel for are: front, middle and rear. I also feel at three different levels: superficial, middle and deep level. I press lightly to feel the pulse that exists at the most surface level, I exert a bit more pressure to feel the pulse at the middle level, and still more pressure to detect the deepest level of pulse.
As I mentioned above, a skilled practitioner also feels for the pulse quality. The quality refers to the texture or how the pulse feels under my fingers. In Chinese Medicine, there are 28 different pulse qualities. Two commonly felt pulse qualities are wiry and slippery. To understand what a wiry pulse feels like, imagine feeling a piano wire under your fingers. Slippery feels different – think of a strand of pearls running underneath your fingers. When I put the information together, I might have felt a fast pulse that is medium depth (felt most strongly when medium pressure is applied) and wiry (with the texture of a taut rope or piano wire). Depending on what else is going on with the patient, this pulse could be an indication of stress and/or pain.
Not every practitioner will always feel the same thing and your pulses can change quickly so, the pulses that I feel at the beginning of your visit may differ from those I detect at the end. For example if your pain/and or stress level has greatly diminished by the end of a session your pulse may have slowed down a bit or feel less ‘wiry’. However, it remains a very important diagnostic tool in TCM.