Why Does an Acupuncturist Look at My Tongue?

By Anne Carruth, LAc


“Why do you look at my tongue?”

I get this question a lot.

No, I’m not checking up on your dental hygiene or trying to catch you drinking coffee.  The tongue is a traditional diagnostic tool in Chinese Medicine.  Your Qi meridians are associated with specific regions of the tongue – think reflexology.

When I look at your tongue I view at it as a whole, first, and then for changes in the specific meridian zones.  I consider its shape, thickness, & width.  Is it symmetrically shaped, does it fill up your whole mouth or seem too small?  Is it long, short, narrow?  Does it have a pointed, rounded, or square tip?  What about scalloped edges or puffy areas?  I look at the color of your tongue and whether or not it has cracks or dark papillae on it. Tongues can be red, pink, pale, purple, orange, brown, and even black –  and each color tells me a bit about what’s going on internally.  I assess the coating on your tongue.  Is it spread evenly over the whole tongue?  Is it thick, thin, sticky, or foamy? Is the coating yellow, white, brown, or clear?  This gets tricky when people brush their tongues.  Ideally you shouldn’t brush your tongue the night before, or morning of acupuncture, so that I can get an accurate reading of your tongue coating.  All of these details, and many more, help me understand how your meridian systems are functioning and where you need a little support.

Get to know your own tongue.  Seriously!  Stick it out & relax it.  Check it regularly and notice when it changes.  Does it get thicker when you’re tired or sleeping poorly?  Do the tip and edges get redder when you’re experiencing a lot of stress?  Is the coating thicker when you’re sick?  If you have digestive problems, see if there’s a crack in the Stomach & Spleen region of your tongue.  Your tongue says so much! – no pun intended.

Recognizing changes in your tongue, even if you don’t know exactly what they mean, can alert you to subtle imbalances in your system.  So stick it out and wag it around…in the name of wellness!