Often when folks come in to see us, they are surprised and a little shy when it comes to showing their tongue. This may be because it’s considered rude to stick your tongue out at someone, unless you’re 5 years old.
The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, and an incredibly strong diagnostic tool too. Tongue diagnosis was used in China as far back as the Shang Dynasty in 16th century B.C.E. Just like fingerprints, each person has a unique shape and pattern to their tongue. No one has a tongue quite like yours. Your tongue also changes in shape, color and texture throughout your lifetime to match the quality and vitality of your internal health.
Because this is the only exposed muscle in the body (meaning it has no skin or fascia covering it) and because it is only connected to one end of the body, we can get a good look at it to see what’s happening internally with other muscles, internal organs, and even your digestion. Changes in the color of the tongue indicate various health problems or disease processes about to take place. For example, a very pale tongue indicates that person is blood deficient and may be anemic. They may also have deep grooves or little valleys and cracks on this tongue- this is a literal lack of substance to fill the shape of the tongue and also indicates deficiency.
We also look at the tongue coat. The thickness of the coat reflects the strength of a pathogenic factor present in the body. The thicker the coat, the stronger the pathogen. A healthy coat is a thin white coat. The coat itself comes from the process of transforming digested food into nourishment that the body can use. A small amount of residue or “turbid dampness” comes up and forms on the tongue. The thickness and color of the tongue coat can change rapidly in a matter of hours, depending on the foods we eat and the medications we take.
The tongue also heals faster than any other part of the body, so we can look at it with each visit and see how fast the body is recovering. So don’t be shy the next time your acupuncturist asks to see your tongue.