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The reliable measurement of radial pulse characteristics
  1. Emma King, Clinical Tutor1,
  2. Deirdre Cobbin, Senior Lecturer1,
  3. Sean Walsh, Lecturer1,
  4. Damien Ryan, Senior Lecturer2
  1. 1
    College of Traditional, Chinese Medicine, Department of Health Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2
    Department of Complementary Therapies, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
  1. d.cobbin{at}


The use of the radial pulse as a diagnostic tool is an integral part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) patient evaluation. In spite of its long history of use, there is little systematic information available to support the many claims about the relationship between pulse qualities and physiological condition contained in the ancient Chinese texts and echoed in modern pulse terminology. This study reports the development of a reliable means of measuring and recording pulse characteristics. This was achieved by reporting on the physical sensations that are detected under the fingertips when the radial pulse is palpated, rather than attempting to translate these into the complex and typically ambiguously defined TCM pulse qualities. The study involved development of a standardised pulse taking procedure and development of concrete operational definitions for each of the characteristics of the pulse being measured. The inter-rater reliability of the pulse taking procedure and operational definitions was assessed by determining agreement levels between two independent pulse assessors for each characteristic. Inter-rater agreement averaged 80% between the two assessors in both the initial data collection (66 subjects) and in a replication collection (30 subjects) completed two months later. Demonstrating reliability of the procedure represents an essential first step for examining the validity of TCM pulse diagnosis assumptions.

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