Tongues & symptoms they represent

Why Do You Look At My Tongue?

Acupuncturists use a number of low-tech methods to assess your health. Beyond talking to our patients, we might also:

  1. Palpate the abdomen
  2. Take the pulse
  3. Look at the tongue

I, for example, do all of the above. Other acupuncturists might only do one or a few of them, depending on their skill & specialty.

Any of these things that we do tend to raise questions. Perhaps the most common question is “why do you look at my tongue?” Patients always want to know what I’m looking for, and what a tongue tells me.

The Qualities of the Tongue
The tongue is the only muscle in the body we can see that isn’t covered with skin. When I look at the tongue I’m looking at its length, size (eg swollen or not), shape (eg cracked or not), color, and any details about the coat on top of it. Each one of these things tells me something different and relates to something within Chinese medical theory.

From a Western viewpoint, the tongue tells me how a person is digesting, how their lymphatic system functions, the quality of blood circulating in the body, the presence of yeast or other growths in the body, and any longstanding or constitutional conditions. If there’s a problem with any one of those things, I also get a general idea as to which organ is most affected and the prognosis for resolving it.

Understanding your Tongue
A normal tongue should be pink, with no cracks in the body, neither swollen or atrophied, absent any sores, and with a thin white coating on top. Very few people have a normal tongue once they hit their mid-twenties.

Here is a drawing of some of the more common tongue presentations and the signs & symptoms they correspond to:

Tongue Diagram for Acupuncture

As you can see, the tongue can vary a lot more than you might think, and it can even vary in a single person from the start to the end of a day. If you’re interested in checking out your own tongue, the best time to do it is right after waking and before brushing your teeth or taking your morning coffee.

If you notice something strange with your tongue, that’s a good time to go see an acupuncturist or herbalist, even if you have no real symptoms or diagnosis. Changes in the tongue can predate any serious medical issues, and it is better to be safe in getting an assessment than waiting and having to fix a major problem later.