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Pulse Diagnosis – Origin, Benefits, Efficacy, And Methodology
A diagnostic technique that has been used across traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, Unani medicine, traditional Mongolian medicine, and traditional Tibetan medicine, the origins of pulse diagnosis are somewhat shrouded in mystery.
Pulse diagnosis was widely admired in Europe as a part of Chinese medicine after extracts of medical texts became available beginning from the late 17th century. Even in modern times, pulse diagnosis is met with disbelief and fascination.1
What Is Pulse Diagnosis? Where Did It Originate?
Historical data affirms that pulse diagnosis was in use before the 6th century BC. A famous physician, Bian Que, lived between 475 BC and 221 BC and was said to be a master at pulse diagnosis. His skills have been described in a text titled “Historical Records,” written by Si-Ma Qian. 2
Pulse diagnosis is an empirical technique that is perfected by years of training.
- In this method, therapist recognizes differences in pulse between different locations.
- Thus, a therapist can determine vacuity or repletion in the organs and their channels.3
How Is Pulse Diagnosis Beneficial?
Pulse diagnosis is helpful in identifying the following:
- Health situation of the circulatory system
- Heart rhythm
- Heart rate
- Elasticity of blood vessels 3
Studies/Research On Pulse Diagnosis
There is a lack of solid scientific evidence of the efficacy of pulse diagnosis.
How Is Pulse Diagnosis Performed?
According to Chinese medicine, diagnosis of a disease consists of 4 steps:
- Listening and smelling
- Palpation 2
Palpation, in this context, means pulse diagnosis and is called pulse examination.
- During the early stages of development of the technique of palpation, it was called the “ubiquitous palpation method.”
- It involved the palpation of arteries situated in the head, hand, and foot.
- During the later stages, palpation was understood to mean palpation of the wrist pulse.
- This spot is located on the area of the wrist through which the radial arteries and the lung channel pass.2
Palpation of the wrist pulse helps determine a number of factors:
- Whether pathological changes have happened inside or outside
- Cold or hot
- Vacuity or repletion patterns 2
The difficulty of practicing pulse diagnosis clinically lies in the fact that the literature about this therapy is in the form of descriptive imagery.
- In 1997, Wang Shu-he described Tight Pulse or Jiu/Jing Mai as “an inflexible pulse like a tensely drawn rope.”
- Li Shi-Zhen’s text called Bin Hue Mai Xue is in the form of rhymes.
Thus, pulse diagnosis is often considered subjective since success of the practice depends entirely on the skill and experience of the practitioner.4
How Can People Get Started With Pulse Diagnosis?
- The physician and the patient sit face-to-face.
- The patient is asked to rest his or her forearms on a pillow with their palms facing upward.
- Palpation is done at the same time on both sides of the radial artery in three spots.
- In this way, the physician can better evaluate the pulses.
The right and left radial arteries have 3 diagnostic spots close to each other. So, there are 6 spots in total.
There is a difference between the floating pulse and the deep pulse. Thus, there are 12 diagnostic spots.
- The location of the pulse on the wrist is known as cum (Position one).
- The location of the pulse on the radial styloid process is called guan (Position two).
- The proximally palpable location is known as chi (Position three).
There are 3 levels of palpation:
According to the Chinese art of pulse diagnosis, palpation helps the therapist determine levels of energy of the organs and their channels, as well as the energy levels of the upper, middle, and lower body.
- If the pulse is floating, the disease lies in the exterior of the body or in a young organ.
- If the pulse is deep, the disease is internal and is usually chronic.3
Any Precautions, Contraindications, Or Interactions
In order to be effective, pulse diagnosis should be performed by a trained therapist. It is recommended for use along with other conventional medicinal techniques.
1. Hsu E. Pulse Diagnosis in Early Chinese Medicine: The Telling Touch. Cambridge University Press; 2010. 404 p.
2. Lin C.H. Pocket Atlas of Pulse Diagnosis. Thieme; 2007. 254p.
3. Roemer A.T. Medical Acupunture in Pregnancy. Thieme; 2011. 239p
4. Walsh S., King E. Pulse Diagnosis: A Clinical Guide. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2007. 248p.