Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

Two diagnostic techniques that Acupuncturists use with patients are the tongue and pulse examinations. I will talk about pulse diagnosis in a later post, so we’ll start here with explaining what tongue diagnosis is, and how it is useful toward developing a treatment plan for the patient.

Sometimes when I ask patients to stick out their tongue during intake, I get a laugh or a funny look about it. It is a unique diagnostic tool, and it can also be extremely indicative of a patient’s general health and the state of certain internal organs.

Although TCM Tongue Diagnosis can be both complicated and somewhat subjective, I will keep it simple for you guys in this article. Certain areas of the tongue reveal the state of their corresponding internal organs. Here’s a map I made giving an overview:

If there is a discoloration, unique coating or abnormal deformity in any of these specific areas, it could indicate an imbalance within that organ system(s). For example, if the tongue has a red tip near the Heart area, it could indicate Heart Heat, which may manifest as anxiety, disturbed sleep or palpitations.

Aside from these geographical areas of the tongue, the tongue’s color, coating, size, and shape are also considered. Some examples and their indications are:

  • Red/Dark red tongue body: Heat
  • Pale, thin tongue body: Blood Deficiency
  • Thick, slimy tongue coating: Dampness/Phlegm Accumulation
  • Quivering/shaking tongue: Qi Deficiency
  • Distended Sublingual Veins (under tongue): Blood Stagnation

A professor explained to me that the tongue is the only muscle that we have that is externally visible. For that reason, its health and appearance can paint a picture of our general health. I hope my explanation has helped you better understand Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine… feel free to email me with any specific questions you may have, or leave a comment below 🙂

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