Ask the Acupuncturist
« Back to Tongue, Pulse & Abdominal Diagnosis Questions
Why did my acupuncturist look at my tongue before an acupuncture treatment?
You may be surprised to find that during an acupuncture
appointment, your practitioner will ask to look at your tongue. This
may seem like an odd request, and is probably the first time a health
care provider has asked you to stick our your tongue. However, in
Chinese medicine, a practitioner can garner quite a bit of information
about you and your condition, simply by taking a look at your tongue.
your practitioner looks at your tongue, he or she is looking at the
shape, color, size, coating and positioning or movement of the tongue,
each of which offers a piece to the diagnostic puzzle.
Shape and Size of Tongue
and size of the tongue tends to address the status of fluids in the
body. For example, a very large, puffy, or scalloped tongue suggests
that fluids are not being properly metabolized in the body. In
contrast, a very small, short tongue may indicate dryness, a deficiency
of fluids, or deficiency in general. In addition to shape and size,
any movement of the tongue can indicate a deficiency of energy or the
presence of an internal wind pathogen.
Color of Tongue
Tongue color varies
widely from person to person, but is a good indicator of the overall
nature of what is going on in the body. A red tongue indicates that
there is heat present in the body, and the redder the tongue, the
greater amount of heat present. A tongue that is pale indicates a
deficiency of qi and blood or the presence of cold. A purple tongue
tells your practitioner that there is stagnation somewhere in the body.
color may also vary on different parts of the tongue. For example, a
tongue that is red at the very tip indicates heat in the Heart, as the
tip of the tongue correlates with conditions of the Heart. Just behind
the tip corresponds to the Lungs; the sides of the tongue are
associated with the Liver; the center of the tongue with the
Spleen/Stomach or digestion; and the back of the tongue is associated
with the condition of the Kidney.
A coating on the tongue can
also give your practitioner information about your health. The
thickness of a coating is an indicator of the severity of the condition
being treated. A thin coating, one in which you can see the tongue
through the coating, indicates that any pathogen present is mild or on
the exterior. A thick coating that obscures the tongue tells your
practitioner that the condition is deeper and more serious.
condition of the coating also speaks to the condition of fluids in the
body. A moist or wet coating indicates poor fluid metabolism, and a
dry coating indicates depleted fluids. A coating that is peeled off,
either completely or partially, indicates some kind of heat or damage
to the Stomach, possibly a depletion of Stomach Yin, or damage to
Tongue coatings also vary in color. In general, a
thin white coating is normal, but can also appear in diseases
associated with cold conditions. A yellow or brown coat indicates
heat, and a gray or black coat indicates an extreme condition. Itís
also important to note that foods such as red wine, orange juice, and
coffee can alter the appearance of the coating. Needless to say, food
dyes can dramatically alter the color of the tongue. In more than one
instance, I have had a young patient stick out their tongue, only to
see a bright blue, green, or pink coating!
The condition of your
tongue will change as your health changes, but in general those changes
appear on the tongue slowly. One exception is during a cold or flu
when the patient has a high fever, a very red tongue will appear fairly
Tongue diagnosis can be a subtle art. To try it
yourself, observe the variations of your tongue and compare it to that
of friends or family members. After you have looked at a few tongues,
you will see that they differ widely, and with a little study can tell
you a lot about the overall health of a person.
About the Acupuncturist:
Lynn Jaffee, LAc, Dipl. OM, MaOM is a licensed acupuncturist. Her practice is located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Website: http://www.acupunctureinthepark.com