Are You a Pulse Master? 5/5 (40)

Acupuncture school6You’ve been there and so have I…

It was in my first diagnosis class in acupuncture school. Our assignment was to feel the patient’s pulse and report what we felt. I was gung-ho (or naïve) enough to volunteer first.

There I stood, eyes closed, concentrating on feeling something meaningful in that regular thumping heartbeat. To be honest, I had no idea what I was feeling, but I bravely put forth my best guess.

Then, the instructor took the pulse and felt something completely different.

I wondered if I would ever learn this bit of magic called pulse diagnosis.

Historically, acupuncture was learned through apprenticeship. The student followed the master for years and learned to feel exactly what the master felt in the pulses. But, how many of us, today, have the opportunity to follow a master around for years to become excellent in pulse diagnosis?

The modern route usually consists of a four-year degree from an acupuncture college, followed by opening a practice. That’s the route I took and I’ve come to realize first hand why it’s called “practicing.”

I’ve practiced pulse taking a lot, learning from any master I can find, every chance I get.

What have I learned about pulses? First and foremost, they are subjective. Everyone who feels the pulses has a different perspective. Imagine yourself around a treatment table with 3-4 experienced practitioners. Most likely, each of them will have a different interpretation of the pulses, along with a different point prescription and pattern identification based on their own analyses.

One instructor told me that it would take a lifetime to become really good at feeling pulses, and that what he felt now, after 20 years of practice, isn’t what he felt previously. “So,” I thought to myself, “was he right 20 years ago or is he only correct with his pulse diagnosis now? And what happens in another 10 or 20 years?”

Fratkin teachingRecently I took a class from Dr. Jake Fratkin (a master pulse diagnostician), where everyone in the room was asked to feel the pulses of the person next to them. We all felt the pulses and came up with our analysis. Dr. Fratkin then came around and gave his own interpretation for every pulse in the room.

What did we learn? That we were all “wrong!”

Every pulse that he came to evaluate was different than what we had felt individually. Dr. Fratkin has been practicing pulse diagnosis for over 30 years and is considered a “master.” Most of us had been practicing between 3 and 10 years, and all had successful clinics, but none of us were “excellent” in pulse diagnosis.

And you know what? Even if we were all “masters” we would most likely still have different interpretations of the same pulses.

That’s just how this largely subjective art is practiced. Pulse diagnosis, as we know it today, has continued to evolve and change since its inception dating back to the early Han Dynasty (168 BCE). Over the years, different styles of pulse diagnosis have continued to evolve based on the interpretation of individual masters along the way.

Today, we can choose from a variety of styles of pulse diagnosis, each with a slightly different interpretation. I am sure that each style was considered “perfect” by some master along the way.

A Modern Approach To Accurate Diagnosis

As modern technology has evolved, acupuncture has been a beneficiary. Much of the acupuncture practiced today is quite different than the techniques of ancient China.

Sterile, stainless steel needles   Cupping without fire Moxa without smoke  •  Laser treatment  •  Electroacupuncture?

All of these modern acupuncture techniques are now commonly used and embraced by acupuncturists with excellent results.

But—how has diagnosis been enhanced by technology?

To answer that question, I’ll start with a little history. Early in the 1950s Dr. Yoshio Nakatani, while treating an edematous patient with nephritis, discovered points around the patient’s ankles that exhibited increased electrical conductance, when compared with surrounding skin areas.

With a little more research he found that these points correlated with the traditional acupuncture points of the Kidney channel. When he examined multiple nephritis patients, he found that these same points were electrically active.

As he further refined his methods, he discovered lines of electrically conductive points corresponding to all the meridians. He also found that the electrical properties of these points revealed the underlying qi activity of each channel.

He called his technique Ryodoraku, which translates to “line of good electrical conductance.” He spent the rest of his career perfecting his methods to be highly accurate and applicable to treatment.

Current advances:

Dr. Nakatani’s “Ryodoraku technique” has evolved and advanced significantly since the 1950s. Now called “Digital Meridian Imaging,” or DMI, current approaches use computerized testing and analysis to quantify qi balance in the meridians and make recommendations for treatment.

With modern equipment, the test takes about two minutes and the computer interpretation is instant. Meanwhile, the body of evidence exploring the electrical properties of acupuncture meridians continues to grow. You can find a list of more than 60 published research articles on the topic at

So, what are the implications for YOUR acupuncture practice?

This video introduction will answer a number of questions you may have.



Before the modern advent of technology, the four pillars of diagnosis were the only way to diagnose a patient—looking, listening/smelling, palpation, and asking.

8 min demo button

These methods are still the foundation of diagnosis. As you saw in the video, they are greatly enhanced and complemented by including Digital Meridian Imaging.

By using DMI in my practice over the last four years, I’ve identified a number of benefits of using this tool with EVERY patient visit.

I continue this article and go into more detail on the Acupucture Today website.  You can click below to finish the article and be sure to check out the free 5 min demo video on the AcuGraph.


—>  Click here to visit Acupuncture Today and continue this article.

AT Pulse Master






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Dr. Kimberly Thompson, DACM, L.Ac.

Dr. Kimberly Thompson, DACM, L.Ac. is a US licensed acupuncturist in the state of Idaho and certified in the treatment of acupuncture, Oriental medicine and Chinese herbology by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Kimberly wears multiple hats in the acupuncture community. She owns her private clinic, Meridian Family Acupuncture. She has spent the last 10 years working for Miridia Technology as an acupuncture Research Analyst–where she helps plan, develop, and integrate modern diagnostic and treatment tools for the ever-evolving scientific world of acupuncture. Kimberly is a world-renown teacher, blogger, columnist, and mentor in the acupuncture community.

So, what do you think about it?