The ancient Chinese doctors believed that the tongue was an integral tool in observing the health of the entire body. Various maps have been created to depict where on the tongue particular organ systems or body parts represent. An Acupuncturist has been trained to analyze these different areas of the tongue and observe its quality, color, and texture, to be able to understand various health conditions and overall energetic harmony.
This allows the practitioner to develop a diagnosis and treatment plan for each individual patient. Think of the tongue as the only muscular tissue a practitioner is able to see; this gives the Acupuncturist an idea of the quality of the other muscles and organs inside the body as well.
The Acupuncturist will take into account the color of the tongue body, the size and shape of the tongue, the color and thickness of the "coat", the color and distention of the sublingual veins underneath the tongue, moisture, any cracks, or any other features that the tongue may have.
Below describes the basic fundamentals of tongue diagnosis for general information. However, these conditions can be quite complex, so it is important to have a licensed professional examine and diagnose your tongue.
TONGUE BODY COLOR
The body of the tongue is the fleshy part underneath the more superficial coating. The color of this part of the tongue is a great indicator for what is going on deeper within the body. A pale tongue usually indicates a deficiency of some sort, more often qi or blood. An extremely red tongue on the other hand represents a type of heat in the body. Purple or a dull color means there is some kind of stagnation in the body, most typically of either qi or blood. Just red alongside the tip or edges of the tongue shows the practitioner that there is heat in only those pertaining organs. The tip represents the heart organ, so perhaps there is some heat in the heart organ system.
TONGUE BODY SHAPE
The shape of the tongue also gives a clue to the energetics of the body. A swollen tongue can indicate qi or yang deficiency. A tongue that is over-sized or looks too large means phlegm, damp, or water stagnation. This could be due to spleen or kidney yang deficiency. A tongue with swollen sides on its lateral edges typically indicates dysfunction of the Liver/Gallbladder energy, usually of fire or excess yang. A very thin tongue means there is much qi or blood deficiency of the body.
A thin and white tongue coating is considered normal, however a thicker white coating that is more moist can indicate dampness. A slightly yellow tongue coating typically means you recently caught a cold (or drank some coffee!). A tongue that is very yellow indicates heat in the body. A dull tongue coating means there is typically some stagnation in the body of cold-damp or damp-phlegm. If the dull color is more grey or black, it could indicate a deeper deficiency or extreme heat. A thin tongue coating is normal and a good sign of health, a thicker tongue coating a deeper illness. When a tongue is red and the coating looks like it is peeled off, it indicates a severe yin deficiency, while if the tongue coating is peeled and the tongue body is very pale, it means there is severe qi and blood deficiency.The moisture of the coat is also a good indicative of health in the body. A healthy tongue should have a small amount of moisture, too greasy indicates dampness while too dry shows that there is heat and dryness in the body.
GEOGRAPHY OF THE TONGUE
If the coating on the tongue appears rooted and not easily scraped off, this is a good sign of strong spleen and stomach (digestive) health. If it appears to float on the surface this indicates a weak spleen and stomach. Fissures and cracks in the tongue typically mean some type of yin deficiency. A crack down the center means a yin deficiency of the spleen and stomach; if the crack extends down to the tip of the tongue, it indicates a disharmony with the heart organ. Scalloped edges on the tongue result from an imprint from the teeth. This is due to a spleen qi deficiency that creates damp in the body. The dampness expands the tongue and presses against the teeth to create those scalloped edges. Ulcers of the tongue usually mean heat in the liver or the heart, depending on their location. Underneath the tongue are the sublingual veins. An acupuncturist will ask the patient to lift their tongue so they can see if these veins are distended and blue. If they are, it typically indicates blood stasis.
This is just the beginning of tongue diagnosis! There are a variety of other aspects of the tongue and mouth an Acupuncturist is trained to identify to aid the diagnosis process. Tongue diagnosis is in itself, a very complex practice that takes years to master. This is because most people have a few disharmonies naturally in their body, causing a combination of excess and deficiency of yin and yang. Book an appointment with the International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine student clinic or a local Acupuncturist near you to have a trained professional diagnose your tongue to determine present and even future health!