The In's and Out's of Tongue Diagnosis

Stick out my WHAT?!

There are a number of aspects that make an acupuncture treatment an overall unique experience. One example is during the intake portion of the treatment, when the practitioner asks the patient to stick out her/his tongue to validate a working diagnosis. Unless the patient is a playful toddler or a thirsty puppy, this might catch a patient off-guard and result in spontaneous laughter or dubious expressions!

In fact, tongue diagnosis is one of the four pillars of examination in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is an effective method for a practitioner to determine a patient’s internal imbalance. According to TCM, the tongue is reflective of the health and relationship between various organ systems and distribution of nutrients of the body. In this way, the tongue allows the practitioner to get a sense of how things are functioning on a deeper, non-visible level by what presents visibly on the surface of the tongue.


In just several seconds, the practitioner studies each of these areas of a patient’s tongue to gather a ton of data. Just for fun, stand in front of the mirror and do your own study! Is your tongue:

Size - Small or big? Short or long?

Shape - Thin or puffy? Does it point to one side? Is it flaccid?

Color - Pale, dusky, red or different shades in various areas?

Features - Teethmarks? Cracks? Dry? Wet?


Based on the collection of this information (together with the intake and pulse reading), the practitioner is then equipped to proceed with the treatment, choosing appropriate acupuncture points as well as herbs to improve your condition. You’ll be asked to refrain from brushing your tongue before your appointment so that the practitioner may view it in its natural form (brushing could potentially skew important features that could give clues as to where the root of the imbalance lies). So at your next appointment, don’t be shy! When asked to see your tongue,  stick it out, loud and proud!