What does the tongue tell you?
If you’ve ever come to see us for a treatment, you’ll know how we usually like to do things. We have a chat about how you’ve been since we last saw you, particularly relating to the main reason that brought you to us. We see a lot of people for fertility or other gynecological conditions, so we’ll often ask detailed questions about your cycle. Was there pain this time? Where was the pain? How was the flow – heavy, clotty, colour? Any pre-menstrual symptoms? We’ll also ask other questions related to aspects of your general health such as any changes to bowel motions or habits, sleep patterns, energy levels etc. We’ll then feel your pulse and look at your tongue.
Inevitably, we get asked the question “Why do you look at the tongue?” “What does the tongue tell you?”
The simple answer is that it helps us diagnose from a Chinese medicine perspective.
Correct diagnosis is crucial for appropriate acupuncture point selection and knowing what herbs to give you, or how to alter a herbal formula we recently gave you, to steer you towards better health outcomes.
Diagnosis in Chinese medicine is more than just you, the patient, rattling off to us a list of symptoms and answering a bunch of questions. In Chinese medicine we diagnose in terms of “patterns” that ultimately explains how well, or not well, your Qi is circulating around your body.
With its rich, long history, Traditional Chinese medicine existed at a time when fancy high tech equipment wasn’t available. Practitioners of Chinese medicine didn’t have the luxury of ultrasounds and x-rays, MRI’s and CT scans. Not even blood tests or pathology reports. All of these diagnostic equipment are recent inventions. And even now, for some patients, all the tests still can’t diagnose what is wrong.
Chinese medicine practitioners relied on other information to gain insight into what was going on. And it is these same diagnostic techniques we use today.
We feel for the quality of your pulse, not just your pulse rate. There are 12 pulse positions on the wrist, each pulse reflecting a different organ system in the body and what the Qi of each organ is doing.
But why do we look at the tongue?
The tongue also tells us a lot about your Qi and blood circulation. We take note of the tongue body colour, or maybe the tongue has different colours in different parts, for example red edges but a pale centre. We look at the coat colour and thickness and whether it is dry, greasy or geographic. The shape of the tongue body and whether it has teeth marked edges, or any cracks in it is also noted.
Other subtle diagnostic clues that we look at is the colour, sheen and texture of your skin, the timbre of your voice, your overall body shape/composition and palpation (feeling/touch). Basically, we use lots of the 5 senses to aid diagnosis – looking, feeling, smelling etc If I listed them all in detail it becomes another blog post entirely!
We collect all of this “information” to inform us of your individual picture, or “pattern of disharmony”. For example, we see hundreds of women who have period pain, but their reasons for period pain are all different based on what, where, or how their Qi is circulating. For example, period pain can be due to Qi stagnation, Blood stagnation or Qi deficiency (to name a few).
Each treatment we give is individualised to that particular patient.
We don’t treat the period pain. Instead we help facilitate Qi to circulate better in you. We move Qi stagnation or move Blood stagnation, or we strengthen and nourish Qi deficiency with carefully selected acupuncture points and herbs.
Most patterns are long standing and therefore treatment can take time. We refine our point selection and herb prescription based on whether or not there has been improvement in your symptoms from the last time we saw you. In most instances, improvement is measurable and noticeable by you e.g. before coming to see us you might have always had period pain for 3 days requiring bed rest and heavy pain killers but after taking some herbs and acupuncture that pain reduced to only one day requiring Panadol and a heat pack. Other times, improvement is not quite so obvious and it is measured by the practitioner in terms of improvement in the pulse quality or changes to the tongue. Treatment continues until (ultimately) a goal of either the patient, or practitioner, is reached.
To summarise, essentially the tongue tells us what is going on with your Qi. Is Qi stuck somewhere? Is Qi deficient somewhere? The tongue is a reflection of your inner health. Try it and see for yourself! The next time you’re unwell, take a look at your tongue in the mirror. Then take another look at your tongue when you’re better. You might be surprised what differences you notice.
Hey! Thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this (very brief) summary of tongue diagnosis. Have you got a question? You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org We’d love to hear from you!