Most of our clients who come to the office bristle at the thought of having their tongue diagnosed. When we first ask to see the tongue, most are embarrassed. “I did not brush my teeth before I came in” or “I ate blueberries” are common responses. We are often asked to explain what we are looking for and what changes we have noticed. With this in mind, I thought I would to explain the importance of Tongue Diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine.
Like other diagnostic methods in TCM, the skill and intuition of the acupuncturist is an important part of tongue diagnosis. It is not uncommon to have 5 acupuncturists each have a different take on the tongue. . An experienced practitioner will be able to give a more accurate interpretation.
First off, it is important to understand the relationship of the tongue to the inside of the body. The color and shape of the tongue reflects the quality of the circulation of qi and blood in the body. A pale tongue, for example, may indicate that the body is lacking some of the qi/blood nourishment it needs to flourish. The tongue coating is indicative of the body fluids (or lack thereof) in the body. The tongue is a very important diagnostic tool for the digestion – a coated tongue, for example, can reflect a sluggish digestion. A geographic/red tongue can reflect heat in the stomach which may manifest as Acid Reflux.
In addition to the color, shape and size of the tongue, each organ system has a location on the tongue. The side of the tongue reflects the Liver and the Gallbladder. If the sides of the tongue are red, it reflects heat in the Liver/Gallbladder meridians. An individual with this tongue may experience irritability, PMS or headaches.
People often ask us what a “normal” tongue looks like. The normal tongue color is pale red. It reflects the quality and quantity of the blood circulation in the body. The normal tongue is neither too thick (swollen) or thin. The normal tongue coating is white and thin. At times there is no coat and the tongue is moist and normal color – this is also normal. The veins underneath the tongue are not distended and purple. Quite honestly, a normal tongue is quite rare which is what makes our job so interesting. Next time you see a very young child – even a baby – take a look at their tongue. That is what a “normal” tongue most often looks like!
One other thing – before you come to your next acupuncture appointment, don’t brush your tongue! We want to see the good, the bad and the ugly!!