Pulse Diagnosis

Pulse diagnosis

Pulse diagnosis is one of the fundamental parts of a diagnostic process in the practice of Chinese medicine.

Pulse diagnosis is used in conjunction with other methods of diagnosis such as inspecting –making a general physical observation of the patient; auscultation and olfaction – listening and smelling as well as questioning – obtaining general information about the patient’s symptoms.

Over the past centuries, pulse diagnosis has been in practice by physicians in both Japan and China. It is true that the intricacies of pulse diagnosis are difficult to master and western physicians regard the process as subjective. However, the fact that it is a salient diagnostic tool by TCM practitioners and patients cannot be denied.

Why Does a Practitioner Take the Patient’s Pulse?

Pulse diagnosis is applied in checking a variety of functions by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Prominent among these functions is the condition of the patient’s blood and Qi.

According to Chinese medicine, Qi is an invisible life force that radiates through the body’s acupuncture meridian. Pulse diagnosis is therefore applied by acupuncturist in determining the parts of the body that have irregular Qi movements. It is also applied in the determination of the health condition of certain organs in the body.

Taking the Pulse

In medical history, a variety of locations on the body has been used in pulse diagnosis. Previously, nine locations were used in feeling pulse; three locations on the head, hand, and legs respectively. Some medical practitioners still use these locations in conjunction with other pressure points on the body.

Presently, the majority of medical practitioners apply a relatively simpler version of pulse diagnosis; they make use of the radial artery just above the wrist.

They examine three different finger positions i.e (cun, guan and chi), and the pulse is felt using three pressure depths i.e superficial, intermediate and deep. Both wrists are palpated alternately; the resultant figures of these readings are computed in view of categorizing the patient’s pulse.

How Many Pulses Are There? What Do They Mean?

There are no specific records of the exact number of pulse that can be taken. Different medical books list numbers ranging from 12 to 40! However, most medical practitioners agree on a consensus of 24 types of pulses that are distinctively recognized.

These are:

  • bowstring
  • deep
  • choppy
  • faint
  • fast
  • feeble
  • floating
  • forceful
  • gliding
  • hasty
  • hidden
  • hollow
  • hurried
  • intermittent
  • irregular
  • knotted
  • long
  • moderate
  • moving
  • rapid
  • relaxed
  • rough
  • scattered
  • short
  • sinking
  • slippery
  • slow
  • soggy
  • superficial
  • surging
  • swift
  • thready
  • tight
  • weak

The pulses enumerated above can be broadly classified into parent categories.  A pulse rate of 5 beats to breath is regarded as rapid; this can further be classified into forceful or weak which is an indication of an excess or deficiency of Qi. In the same vein, a slow pulse can also be categorized as forceful or weak. Other broad categories of the pulse are floating, deep, slippery, rough, irregular, and bowstring.

Precautions and Contraindications

It is important to perform pulse diagnosis on a patient in a normal condition in order to have accurate data. In order to enhance accuracy, pulse diagnosis may not be performed on patients after eating, drinking, exercise, sex or at a location where the temperature is excessively hot or cold.

It is ideal for both the medical practitioner and the patient to be in a relaxed mood and breathing normally before reading the pulse.

Pulse diagnosis is best used in conjunction with other diagnosis methods; especially when treating patients with a chronic (severe) disease condition or if the origin of the disorder is unknown. It is good practice for acupuncturists to apply several diagnostic methods in order to achieve a very accurate diagnosis.


Pulse diagnosis is a fast, relatively cheap and noninvasive method of diagnosis. It is a handy tool in the arsenal of an experienced medical practitioner in accurately determining the health status of a patient.

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