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Chinese Medicine Diagnosis

Chinese medicine diagnosis really is a very simple but thorough and effective method of viewing and diagnosing the physical body. There are many aspects to a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, but all disease can ultimately be traced to an imbalance of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang or Yin-Yang as the Chinese say, is central to Chinese culture, philosophy and Traditional Chinese Medical Principles. It therefore forms the cornerstone of a Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis.

Yin-Yang History and Evolution

It is said that the early theory of Yin-Yang was created in ancient China somewhere between the sixteenth century B.C. and 221 B.C. during the Yin and Zhou dynasties. Yin-Yang philosophy, theory and practice evolved from ancient Chinese ideologies and teachings gathered from observation of the universe by the ancient Taoist masters.

The ancient Masters recognised that the universe consisted of two opposing forces. The ancient masters became aware that these two forces continually moved towards one another in a motion of continued cycles. Over time they recognised that each would transform to become the other. Day (Yang), becoming night (Yin), is probably the most obvious and best example of this. The Chinese characters for Yin and Yang actually mean the shady side of a hill (Yin) and the sunny side of a hill (Yang). These characters are shown on the front cover of the e-book soon made available from this site entitled TCM Principles’ with the top character representing Yin, and the bottom Character representing Yang.

Chinese medicine diagnosis consists of observing and tracing symptoms in relation to the internal organs to recognise some form of pattern that originates from an imbalance and what is known as an underlying disharmony or Syndrome. A significant aspect of Chinese medicine diagnosis is generally considered to be palpation of the pulse. There are many types of pulse in Chinese medicine and all tell the practitioner something about the patient’s physical condition.

Pulse types

Basic pulse types involve; depth, speed, width, strength, shape and overall quality as well as the rhythm and length. To become proficient at taking the pulse requires practice, sensitivity and many years of experience.


Floating: a floating pulse seems to float on the surface. It suggests an environmental influence has entered the body and is in the superficial layers where protective wei qi is attempting to expel it.

Sinking: also called a deep pulse, a sinking pulse can only be felt at a deep level when firm pressure is applied. It indicates the disharmony is internal or there may be an obstruction of some kind.


Slow: a slow pulse is said to have fewer than four beats per respiration (inhalation and exhalation). It indicates internal cold that is slowing the movement or qi and blood, or deficiency of qi not causing movement.

Fast: a fast pulse suggests heat causing the quick movement of blood.


Thin: a thin pulse suggests deficient blood unable to fill the pulse or deficient qi.

Big: a big pulse is quite fat and easy to feel and suggests an excess condition.


Full: a full pulse is like the ‘big pulse’ as above but also very strong. It can be felt very easily with light and firm pressure and is a sign of excess.

Empty: an empty pulse is forceless. It is wide but not strong and disappears with slight pressure. It is a sign of deficient qi and/or blood.

Shape and Quality

Slippery: a slippery pulse is as the name suggests. It has a fluid like quality and indicates excess mucus, phlegm and dampness.

Wiry: a wiry pulse feels like a guitar string. It is taut, has no fluid qualities about it, is strong and even and can be felt very easily. It suggests stagnation usually of the liver and/or gallbladder.


Knotted: a knotted pulse is slow with irregularly missed beats. It suggests cold obstructing the qi and blood and may also indicate deficient qi, deficient blood and/or deficient jing. It could also suggest deficient heart qi or deficient heart yang.

Hurried: a hurried pulse is like the above knotted pulse but faster. It indicates that heat may be agitating the qi and blood causing irregular missed beats.


Short: a short pulse can’t be felt in all three positions and indicates deficient qi.

Long: a long pulse can be felt beyond the three positions. It suggests an excess condition of some kind if it is wiry. If its speed and strength are normal it is not considered a sign of disharmony.

The above named pulses form the basic types of pulse recognised in a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis. The signs felt in the pulse carry a lot of weight in Chinese medicine and there are many other types of pulse, far too many to mention here. There are books available on taking the pulse for Chinese medicine diagnosis alone, so deep is this subject and so much emphasis placed on this art. Pulse taking is covered in more detail in the e-book ‘TCM Diagnosis’ soon to be made available from this site.

To understand the above pulses fully, a good understanding of  the principles of Chinese medicine is a fundamental requirement. This is covered in depth in the e-book entitled  TCM Principles’.

Chinese Medicine Diagnosis – The Four Examinations

There are many other aspects other than the pulse that contribute to a thorough Chinese medicine diagnosis however, and all contribute to a correct outcome for both diagnosis and treatment. Other methods of a Chinese medicine diagnosis involve those drawn from The Four Examinations. The Four Examinations are a set of questions and observations that systematically look at the person as a whole entity. The Four examinations address aspects of a patient’s well-being that the patient may not have even thought about themselves, or if they had, may not have considered them to be connected with the complaint that they entered the clinic for in the first place.

The Four Examinations asks questions relating to such aspects of a patient as their general appearance, including their physical shape, their manner such as how they act, and whether they move quickly or slowly, whether they are overweight or thin, agitated or quiet, do they feel warm or cold, or is their face red or pale? Other observations and questions of a Chinese medicine diagnosis include; listening and asking about a patient’s respiration. Is it weak, are they short of breath, do they have a weak voice, a heavy cough, sudden cough, violent cough, or a dry, hacking cough? Do they sleep well, wake in the night, can they fall to sleep? All these signs mean something to the practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and help to form some kind of picture as to what is taking place within the system of the patient.

The Four Examinations are too vast and complex to explain in detail here. They must be studied and understood alongside other principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine in order to fully reveal their true relevance and meaning within the context of disease and its effect upon the physical human body.

From the answers to the questions that are asked in the Chinese medicine diagnosis, the TCM practitioner will come to a conclusion as to what organs are affected and then select appropriate acupuncture points that correspond to those particular organs to treat the underlying imbalance. Chinese medicinal herbs may also be selected and given to the patient.

In short, a Chinese medicine diagnosis is a complex, sensitive system of understanding the nature of illness, and its involvement within the physical human body. Today, Traditional Chinese Medicine continues to grow, and is practiced throughout the Western world with great success. Traditional Chinese Medicine has stood the test of time, proving itself to be an invaluable source of therapy for the relief of many diseases of the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the human body.


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