Dr. Angelica Kokkalis, O.M.D L.Ac.

Picture of Angelica

Pulse Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

Pulse Taking Chinese Style

A normal balanced pulse is felt mainly at the middle level. Normal speed is between four and five beats per complete respiration, amounting to about seventy to seventy-five beats per minute. The quality of a normal pulse is elastic and “lively” neither hard and unyielding, nor flaccid and indistinct.

Types of pulse

The distinctions between pulses that are most commonly made by physicians are depth, speed, width, strength, overall shape and quality, rhythm, and length.

  • Floating pulse is distinct at a superficial level of pressure, it is less perceptible when palpated at the middle and deep level. It signifies deficient yin.
  • Sinking or deep pulse is distinct only at the third level, when heavy pressure is applied. It indicates that the disharmony is internal, or that there is obstruction.
  • A slow pulse is one that has fewer than four beats per respiration. It is a sign of cold retarding movement or insufficient Qi to cause movement.
  • A rapid pulse is one that has more than five beats per respiration. It indicates that heat is accelerating the movement of blood.
  • A thin pulse feels like a fine thread but is very distinct and clear. It is a sign that the blood is deficient and unable to fill the pulse properly.
  • A big pulse is broad in diameter and very distinct, and suggests excess. It is commonly felt when heat is present in the stomach or intestines or both.
  • An empty pulse is big but without strength. It feels weak and soft like a balloon partially filled with water. It is felt at the superficial level and is often slower than normal. It signifies deficient Qi and blood.
  • A full pulse is big and strong, pounding hard against the fingers at all three levels. It is a sign of excess.
  • A slippery pulse is extremely fluid. It feels smooth, like a ball bearing covered with viscous fluid. It is a sign of excess, usually dampness or mucus.
  • A choppy pulse is uneven and rough, and sometimes irregular in strength and fullness. It is a sign of deficient blood and jing.
  • A short pulse does not feel the spaces under the three fingers and is usually felt only in one position. It is often a sign of deficient Qi.
  • A long pulse is perceptible beyond the first and third positions. If it is of normal speed and strength, it is not considered a sign of disharmony.
  • A knotted pulse is a slow irregular pulse that skips beats irregularly. It is a sign of cold obstructing the Qi and blood, though it may indicate deficient Qi blood and Jing.
  • A hurried pulse is a rapid pulse that skips beats irregularly. It is usually a sign of heat agitating the Qi and blood.