Practicing Acupuncture Since 1995

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Acupuncture Pulse Taking

Acupuncture Pulse Taking

The pulse diagnosis along with inspecting and conducting a general observation of the patient, listening smelling, observing and questioning – obtaining information about a patient’s medical history and symptoms- the traditional diagnosis (see blog 10/05/19). Pulse diagnosis is considered an essential part of the practice of traditional five element acupuncture. Taking the pulse has been practiced in both China and Japan for centuries, and while it is difficult to master, it remains an important diagnostic tool by both acupuncture practitioners and patients.


While the first use of pulse diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine remains unknown, one of the earliest references to pulse diagnosis appears in the Huangdi Neijing, also known as The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. A passage in the book notes that, “In diagnosis, observation of the spirit and facial colour, and palpation of the pulses, are the two methods that were emphasized by the ancient emperors and revered teachers,” which implies that the practical use of pulse diagnosis existed long before the Huangdi Neijing was written. Other passages in the book provide information on certain types of pulses and their relation to particular diseases.

Another important work that explored the use of pulse diagnosis is the Mai Jing, or Pulse Classic, which is believed to have been written by Wang Shuhe, a Chinese physician who lived in the third century A.D. The Mai Jing expanded on the information contained in the Huangdi Neijing, and included a wide range of applications for pulse diagnosis, along with prognoses and ways to analyse diseases based on the type of pulse a patient demonstrated.

Why Does an Acupuncture Practitioner Take the Patient’s Pulse?

In traditional five element acupuncture, pulse diagnosis is used to check a variety of functions. Primary among these are the condition of the patient’s Qi -an invisible type of life force or energy that travels through the body’s acupuncture meridians. Using pulse diagnosis, an acupuncturist can determine areas of the body that may have disruptions or blockages of Qi, and can also be able to determine the condition of certain internal organs.

Taking the Pulse

The pules are taken just above the radial artery on the wrist, examining three finger positions and felt at two depths – superficial and deeper, if pressed too deep only the radial artery is felt.  Both wrists are palpated, one wrist at a time. The results of these readings are used to categorize a patient’s pulse. The art  and skills of chinses pulse taking is undoubtedly one of the most demanding and requires the greatest sensitivity to perfect.

How Many Pulses Are There? What Do They Mean?

There are twelve pulses six in each wrist. The twelve readings correspond to officials (organs and meridians) and each one is associated with one of the five elements. Whilst the pulse’s volume or strength tells us about the amount an official currently commands the pulse itself has any one of 28 different qualities, qualities that tell of the complete life and history of the official – therefore an important tool for ongoing diagnosis and treatment. Understanding the pulses in depth is a very subtle art and takes time to learn and perfect – and a vital part of traditional five element acupuncture.

To find out more about pulse taking and acupuncture can help you contact Hannah on :-

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