There are many locations on the human body where your pulse can be felt. Your pulse is the pressure wave of blood that is generated when your heart muscles contract. It reflects the rhythm, rate and strength of your heart's contractions.
You can feel your pulse anywhere that an artery (a blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart) crosses over a bone and is close to the skin's surface. Some of the most common places to easily find your pulse are listed below.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you're finding your pulse. The first is: don't use your thumb. Your thumb has a pulse of its own, which can trick you into thinking you've found a point when you haven't. This is mainly a concern when you're feeling for someone else's pulse, you don't want to confuse your pulse with theirs. To avoid this problem, always use your forefinger and middle finger to locate one.
Another thing to consider is the difference between central and peripheral pulses. Your central pulses include your carotid and femoral arteries. These are arteries that your aorta directly feeds, so they can be more telling than your peripheral pulses. It's possible to have a femoral and carotid pulse and not have a peripheral one. However, if this is the case, your patient is likely suffering from severely low blood pressure and needs immediate medical attention. Additionally, you should be careful when feeling for someone's carotid pulse. The carotid artery feeds the brain and if you pinch off the artery by applying pressure for too long, you could cause your patient serious harm. Here's how to take a pulse using these points.
- Carotid Artery. Your carotid artery runs vertically along both sides of your neck. To find your carotid pulse, place your fingers at the top of your neck, just under your jaw at about the mid-point between your earlobe and chin.
- Femoral Artery. Your femoral artery begins in your abdomen, where your aorta splits. It can be felt in your groin area, at the crease where your lower abdomen meets your upper thigh. Find the beginning of your pelvic bone (the first bone you hit moving outward from your bellybutton). Then place your fingers about 3" in (closer to your bellybutton) and 4" down (towards your feet). You should find your femoral artery here, near the crease between your groin and leg.
- Radial Artery. The radial artery is the pulse point most commonly used to determine someone's heart rate. Face either hand palm up and use the fingers from your other hand to locate your pulse. Your radial artery is on the thumb's side (or outside) of your wrist when the palm of your hand is facing you. Place your fingers half way between the tendons that run down the center of your forearm and the edge of your arm, on the thumb side, right at your wrist. Make sure one finger is closer to your palm than the other, so they appear "stacked"; your fingers should be vertical on your wrist, not side-by-side. You should feel a strong pulse here.
- Brachial Artery. The brachial artery can be tricky to find, especially in people with big muscles. However, if you're able to maneuver your fingers under the muscles, so you're pressing the artery against the bone, you should be able to find your pulse without much difficulty. Place your fingers half way between your shoulder and your elbow, in the middle of your inner arm, between your bicep and your triceps. If you place your fingers in the center of your armpit and slide them half the distance to the inner side of your elbow, they should be in the correct position. Now it's just a matter of pressing your fingers down and maneuvering them around any muscle that's in the way.
- Dorsalis Pedis Artery. The dorsalis pedis artery is on the top of your foot, on the big toe side. If you place your fingers between the base of your big toe and the base of your second toe, then trace that line straight back towards your body, until you're fingers are about half way to your ankle, you should encounter your dorsalis pedis pulse. Like with the radial artery, your fingers should be aligned vertically between your toes and your body-the fingers should not appear to be side-by-side.
Knowing how to take your pulse can help you determine your heart rate. This can be especially useful during exercise. Good luck!