Why Acupuncturists Look at Your Tongue

photo of a normal tongue from acupuncturist's chartWhy do acupuncturists look at your tongue?

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine began thousands of years ago. The early practitioners had no x-rays, no blood tests, no easy way to find out what was going on inside the body. But they did have the tongue.

Your tongue is in your mouth – inside your body – but it’s visible from outside. It’s the only muscle you have which isn’t hidden by skin. What’s more, it doesn’t hurt or harm you in any way to show someone your tongue. That’s an important factor for holistic healers like me who want to make things better, not worse.

If you look at them, tongues are actually very varied. Here’s a chart I still have from when I studied acupuncture. Everyone’s tongue is different! And if you look at your tongue once a day for a week or so, you’ll find your tongue changes over time too. That’s what makes it such a good way to look at your overall health.

Here’s a chart I got as an acupuncture student which shows a wide range of tongues – none of them healthy except the one at top left!

Tongue chart with photos showing how the tongue looks for various conditions.

Main elements of tongue diagnosis

There are three main elements acupuncturists consider when they look at your tongue – its shape, its colour and the coating on it.

Tongue Shape

Is your tongue long and thin, diagram of tongue showing which parts relate to which part of the bodyor shorter? Is it stiff, or does it move easily? Can you touch the tip of  your nose? (Only some of us can, but it’s always fun to watch kids trying!)

If your tongue is swollen, it might be because your fluid metabolism is off-balance, which can affect your emotions.

Or maybe the coating of your tongue is cracked, meaning heat or dryness. What that means depends on the size, quality and location of the cracks. Just like the foot, different parts of the tongue relate to different parts of your body. So when an acupuncturist or Chinese medicine practitioner examines your tongue, they can tell which part of your body is out of balance.

Tongue Colour

A deeper colour in the tongue means more heat. That might mean inflammation, infection or hyperactivity in one organ.

If your tongue is very light in colour, you may have the opposite problem. Often it means your immune system is low. That’s often a result of overstress and overwork. It often happens if you’re having chemotherapy too – the chemicals take a lot out of your body and it shows!

Tongue Coating

There’s a number of things to look at here:

  • How thick is the coating?
  • What colour is it?
  • Is it consistent across the whole tongue or does it have spots?

When an acupuncturist looks at your tongue, they assess all these things. As for me, I work holistically so I often find out many things simply by asking you. But sometimes your body knows better than you do what the problem is, so checking your tongue can be really useful.

Also just for fun, check out this article about Miley Cyrus’ tongue. It certainly shows how one person’s tongue can change when their health does!

So if your tongue feels or looks different, get in touch. It might mean you need to tackle a serious health issue.

Symptoms may include strong emotion, fatigue, insomnia
photo of red tongue with red spots at time and thick yellow coat
Symptoms may include insomnia, burning pain, strong emotions
photo of pale tongue with thin white coat
Possible symptoms: lack of energy, fatigue, bruising and sweating