Taking the pulse in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a very important part of our diagnosis. A practitioner can tell a lot about you internally, even before you tell her or him. A lot of patients are mystified by this diagnostic skill (and they should be!). It's just one of the many different ways that acupuncture and alternative medicine differ from conventional medicine. Since a lot of my patients often inquire about what I'm doing when I take their pulses, I thought I'd write a post about why we take the pulse in TCM.
It's not something that practitioners can learn over night- it takes a lot of practice and taking several hundred (or thousand) pulses to get the technique down. There are three positions a practitioner is looking for, and each position represents a different organ or part of the body.This is the reason we take the pulse on both sides, not just one. By taking your pulse, we can tell if your eating habits are good, if you have a cold coming on, and if your energy is high or low. We can also take note of how your organs are functioning at that time.
When an acupuncture practitioner takes your pulse, they are still counting the beats per minute, the way you would have done in the doctors office. However, we are also looking for certain "qualities" in the pulse. Some terms you might hear an acupuncturist say are "wiry" (if you are stressed out or in pain), "slippery" of you have a lot of phlegm, or even "rapid" of you have a fever.
Don't be afraid to ask the practitioner what they are feeling in your pulse- education is the best way to living a healthier life :)