Pulse diagnostics – a mirror of organ functions

“Taking a pulse” has a long tradition in medicine and is used in both Western and Eastern medicine as an integral part of diagnostics. In Western medicine, the pulse primarily provides information about heart activity. This method can be witnessed in an extended version in the Chinese medicine tradition – whereby substantially more pulses and also other organs are taken account of for the diagnosis than in the western medicine: 28 pulses are palpated at both the wrists in three locations and in three depth positions.


The pulse types

The different pulse locations are assigned to different organs: The type of pulse is determined at three depth positions (skin surface, middle level and deep level). The volume, rhythm, frequency and shape of the pulses are determined. This makes it possible to distinguish between deficiencies, fullness or disharmonies in the organs and their functions.

How to proceed

The pulse is taken at both wrists in three locations: From the hand (distal) to the shoulder (proximal): Cun, Guan, Chi. At each of these points, three pressure strengths are exerted by palpation: superficial, medium, deep.

The functional coherency indications for the left wrist:

  • CUN – heart and small intestine
  • GUAN – Liver and Gall Bladder
  • CHI – kidney and bladder, renal yin.

The functional coherency indications for the right wrist:

  • CUN – lung and colon
  • GUAN – spleen and stomach
  • CHI – kidney and ming men (pelvic area), kidney yang.

The index, middle and ring fingers are placed on the pulse palpation points such that the index finger is distally close to the wrist. It is palpated with the left hand on the right wrist and with the right hand on the left wrist. The tips of the fingers (not the whole phalanges) are used. The palpation takes place in three pressure ranges (superficial, medium and deep), first with all three fingers at the same time, then separated with each finger. As the pulse is being taken, the patient should sit.


The normal pulse

Pulse diagnostics requires a great deal of experience. The normal pulse alone depends on sex, body type, season, region and time of day. The normal pulse is palpable at all three pulse points in medium strength. It is calm and even.

A normal pulse has three characteristics: Stomach Qi, SHEN and the root.

Stomach-Qi: harmonious and powerful pulse wave flow

SHEN: Soft, harmonious, strong pulse

Root: strong pulse at the CHI location

The experienced TCM physician recognises disturbances of the organ functions by deviations from the normal pulse. In conjunction with other diagnostic findings (e.g. tongue diagnostics), this results in a mirror image of the symptoms in the organ functions.