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Significane of Pulse Diagnosing

One of the most common questions that people ask about acupuncture is: "Why does my acupuncturist check my pulse?"

Pulse and tongue diagnosis are two of the more important diagnostic tools in Chinese medicine. They are both used to derive a traditional diagnosis for your condition which is used to plan your treatment. Of the diagnostic tools, pulse diagnosis is one of the more important tools used in Chinese and Japanese acupuncture and herbal medicine. While tongue diagnosis provides valuable clinical information, the pulse can be used to gain a deep understanding of the patient on many levels. "Mastering" pulse diagnosis is difficult without the guidance of a skilled teacher. Even at basic levels, however, the pulse provides immediate and specific information that can help clarify contradictory diagnostic information and symptomology.


Pulse diagnosis is one of the original set of four diagnostic methods that are described as an essential part of traditional Acupuncture. The other three diagnostic methods are:

  • inspection: general observations of the patient, including facial expression; skin color and texture; general appearance, and the shape, color, and distinctive markings of the tongue and the nature of its coating; and smelling (noting any unusual smell of the body, mouth, or urine);
  • listening: to the quality of speech (including responsiveness to questions, rapidity of talking, volume of the voice); to the respiration; and to sounds of illness, such as coughing, gurgling from the intestines; and
  • inquiring: obtaining information about the patient's medical history and their symptoms and signs, such as chills/fever, perspiration, appetite and dietary habits, elimination, sleep, and any pains; also, for women inquiring about menstruation, pregnancy, leukorrhea and other gyno-obstetric concerns.

All of these diagnostic methods yield information that helps to determine the syndrome and constitution to be treated. While the Chinese pulse and tongue diagnosis methods, because of their frequent mention and somewhat unique quality among traditional medical systems, receive much attention, the other aspects of diagnosis cannot be ignored or downplayed.


In modern medicine, the traditional style of pulse diagnosis, which was also practiced in a slightly different form in Western medicine until the 19th century, is replaced by a number of other tests. Tests by stethoscope and blood pressure cuff are routinely performed as pulse diagnostic techniques. The stethoscope reveals pulse rate and, at a low level of inference, irregularities in the structure and function of the heart, which must be evaluated further. When deemed necessary, additional testing is performed via various heart monitors, such as an electrocardiogram. The non-invasive sonograms as well as the more invasive testing (e.g., insertion of monitors into the body) allow modern physicians to examine the interior of the arteries and the heart. The information from these tests is generally understood to reflect only the conditions of the heart and major vessels (the cardiovascular system); it is not thought of as a means of examining other aspects of health. Unlike the traditional concept, the pulse form or information obtained by examining the vessels is not thought to provide useful information about, for example, the liver, kidney, lung, or spleen conditions.