Importance of the Tongue in Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM Tongue Diagnosis

Many people are surprised when asked to show their tongue during an acupuncture treatment so I thought I’d shed some light on it. The tongue is an incredibly important diagnostic tool in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The color, coating, shape and texture of the tongue reflect the state of your health. The color of your tongue can change daily and will tell a lot about what’s going on inside your body. The sensitive tissue of the tongue reacts to changes in digestion, pH, circulation and immune function.

Here’s what your tongue is telling you…


A healthy tongue will be pink or light red with a thin white coat on the surface. If there is excess heat in the body due to fever, inflammation or infection the tongue will be a bright red color. A purple tongue shows poor circulation and blood stagnation. A pale or white tongue can indicate low energy, fatigue and a weak immune system.

The different zones of the tongue reflect different areas of the body. For example, the tip of the tongue reflects the health of the heart. A bright red tip can indicate a ‘restless heart’ causing insomnia. The mid-section of the tongue reflects the digestive system and a greasy coat here can indicate poor digestion. The sides of the tongue reflect the health of the liver. Bright red sides with no coating can indicate stagnation in the liver and high levels of stress.


Many people brush their tongue when brushing their teeth but it’s best to avoid brushing your tongue for 24 hours before your appointment. Your practitioner will want to see the coating on your tongue as it provides additional information about your health. A very thick coating will happen when you are in the midst of a cold. The coating will gradually get thicker as the cold progresses. Observing the coating is a good way to assess overall immunity and can indicate whether the body is about to get a cold or is successfully warding off one. If the coat is yellow, it can indicate heat in the body and that the condition is more serious. This will occur with fever or infection. A peeled coat (or no coat) can indicate stomach heat causing acid reflux. Dryness can indicate a lack of fluids and dehydration.


The shape and movement of the tongue can also be important. A flaccid, swollen tongue with scalloped edges can indicate poor digestion and weak energy. A rigid, dry, red tongue can be indicative of cardiovascular issues and a tongue that lies mostly to one side can indicate a major imbalance in the body and can happen after a stroke. Lines and cracks on the tongue can also provide important information about your health.

A good habit to get into is to check your tongue every morning and take note of the color, shape and coating. After awhile you’ll notice changes that correspond to how you’re feeling.

The more you ‘read’ your body, the better you can care for your health!

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