- Posted on: Feb 5 2020
Sticking out your tongue may be a typical part of an acupuncture appointment. Patient’s often ask why and are curious as to what practitioners are looking at. Tongue inspection is an important diagnostic tool that shows signs of how the body is functioning and potential imbalances.
When your acupuncturist looks at your tongue they are looking at the shape, the color, the coat (including but not limited to: thickness, color and moisture) and the sublingual veins. The tongue is also divided into sections reflecting different organ systems within the body, so while the tongue is observed as a whole it is also looked at in pieces from side-to-side and front-to-back for changes that might indicate an issue in a particular part of the body.
Shape: When evaluating the shape of one’s tongue, a practitioner will first assess the size. Normal being neither too thick or too thin, both of which can be a reflection of the health of blood, body fluids and qi in the body. A swollen tongue can be an indicator of digestive problems and can be identified with the presence of a scalloped edges or teeth marks from the tongue pressing into the back of the teeth. A deviated tongue can show an issue with the heart organ as can cracks in the tongue which might indicate the heart organ or memory or insomnia while curled edges might be indicative of liver/gallbladder issue or liver qi stagnation and stress.
Color: A normal color is a healthy pink, when a patient presents with a paler color it may indicate underlying deficiencies which may be related to diet or stress on the body and mind. The tongue may also look more purple or dark showing stagnation an indicator of pain in the body. Alternatively, a patient may present with a redder tongue which might indicate heat in the body.
Coat: The ideal coat is a thin white coat, not too dry, not too moist and smooth across the entire tongue. It’s important to note that many people brush their tongue coat as part of their dental hygiene regimen, to have a true understanding of one’s tongue coat it is advised not to brush your tongue the day of your appointment. The coat is a reflection of the spleen/stomach in Chinese medicine and is a direct reflection of the Stomach fluids from a Western perspective, but in addition to informing the practitioner about your digestion the tongue coat can be an indicator of acute conditions like catching a cold or more chronic conditions like low back pain.
Sublingual Veins: The veins underneath the tongue can sometimes present engorged or very dark and pronounced which can indicate blood stagnation in the body. Stagnation is the definition of pain in the body and when it is seen in the sublingual veins it is often and indicator of menstrual issues or chronic pain.
All of these are indicators of how the body is functioning and can guide a treatment protocol. There are many things that can influence the appearance of your tongue including lifestyle, diet and prescription medications and it is important to inform your practitioner of any changes that may have altered the appearance of your tongue.
Every person is different, as is every tongue and while the practitioner is looking for the signs of a healthy tongue that will present differently from one patient to the next. Diagnosticians will observe the tongue routinely to understand what is healthy and normal for each individual patient and note changes over time.
Posted in: Acupuncture