Why Do Acupuncturists Examine Your Tongue?

Have you ever wondered why Chinese medical practitioners examine your tongue?  

The tongue body, structure, and coating are representative of the state of the body’s organs in Chinese medicine.  All of the channels (Heart, Spleen, Liver, Lung, etc.) in the body either directly or indirectly reach the tongue; we can obtain information about the qi, blood, yin, and fluids in the body as a result of its examination.

Which parts of the tongue represent which Chinese medical organs?

Here is a map:   

TCM - Tongue Map

What does a normal tongue look like?

It is pale red, with a thin, white tongue coat.  It is not dry and does not have excessive moisture on it.  The sublingual veins are not dark or distended.  

We use tongue diagnosis to aid in our Chinese medical pattern diagnosis:

We look at the tongue body.  Is it swollen or thin?  Does the tongue have teethmarks?  We can determine the state of the body’s qi and blood by observing these aspects.  Is the tongue body pale (indicating a qi or blood deficiency) or red (which can indicate heat from various causes).  If the edges are squeezed in or curled up, this can indicate some Liver qi stagnation (which can result from stress in your life).    

We examine the moisture level of the tongue.  

A dry, cracked tongue can indicate diminished fluid levels in the body, blood deficiency, or heat.  A tongue which is excessively wet can indicate inefficient fluid metabolism.

We look at the tongue coat color and thickness.  

A yellow tongue coat indicates heat.  A white tongue coat, if thick, can indicate cold in the body.

Take a look at your own tongue to search for the size, color, cracks, coating and shape. See if the areas of your tongue correspond with weaknesses in your body.  For example, people with asthma may see a dip in the lung area or those with digestive issues may see a swollen tongue with or without coating to indicate weak spleen and stomach organ systems.  

This is just a synopsis of tongue diagnosis in Chinese medicine.  For more information, we recommend Barbara Kirschbaum’s Atlas of Chinese Tongue Diagnosis, which is the source we used for this article.