How does a TCM practitioner diagnose using the pulse? (Part 1) 中医师如何把脉诊病?(一)

Updated: Feb 28

TCM Physician taking the pulse

This article contains Part 1. Read part 2 here to find out about pulse diagnosis of internal organs

Most people believe that the pulse can only be used to measure one’s heart rate. How does a TCM practitioner diagnose the health condition of a patient by taking the pulse then?

This is because in TCM, the rate is not the only characteristic of the pulse that the practitioner feels for. There are other attributes that can be identified, such as strength, thickness, depth, tension etc.

Feeling the pulse

In other words, when a TCM practitioner takes your pulse, apart from counting the number of beats, he/she is also identifying what the pulse feels like. For example, the pulse can feel thin, strong, tight, wiry, rough, deep etc. Each of these pulse types reveals certain information about the patient’s condition. There are more than 20 different pulse types.

In this article, we pick a few common pulse types and share with you what they feel like and what health conditions they signify.

Thin Pulse

What it feels like

  • The pulse feels like a thin thread under the fingers, but is still distinct

Common conditions

  • Insufficient Qi and Blood (Symptoms may include general weakness, being easily tired, or poor function of a certain organ etc.)

  • Presence of dampness (Symptoms may include feeling of heaviness, soreness in limbs, edema etc.)


Slippery Pulse

What it feels like

  • smooth, slippery, like a well-lubricated ball running under the fingers

Common conditions

  • Pregnancy (Pregnant women may often have a slippery pulse, but this should not be used as a definite sign of pregnancy, as the slippery pulse can signify other conditions too.)

  • Excess heat (Symptoms may include fever, red face, sore throat and ulcers, thirst, constipation etc.)

  • Phlegm

  • Can be felt in strong, healthy individuals too

Floating

What it feels like

  • The pulse can be felt easily just by touching the surface of the wrist

  • Upon applying more pressure, the feeling of the pulse diminishes slightly

Common conditions

  • Floating pulses are often found in patients with a cold or flu

  • This is because a floating pulse usually signifies an attack by external pathogenic factors (eg. wind heat, wind cold), that can cause sneezing, phlegm, runny nose etc

Fast

As a reference, a normal pulse beats about 4-5 times per breath (i.e. one inhalation + one exhalation).