Acupuncturists use a number of low-tech methods to assess your health. Except talking to our patients, they might also:

1.Palpate the abdomen
2.Take the pulse
3.Look at the tongue
For example, I do all of the above. Other acupuncturists might only do one or a few of them, depending on their skill and specialty.

Any of these things that we do tend to raise questions. Perhaps the most common question is “why do you look at my tongue?” Patients always ask me what I’m looking for, and what a tongue can tell me.

The Qualities of the Tongue


The tongue is the only muscle in the body we can see that isn’t covered with skin. When I look at the tongue I’m looking at its length, size (eg swollen or not), shape (eg cracked or not), color, and any details about the coat on top of it.
Every one of these things tells me something different and relates to something within Chinese medical theory.

From a Western perspective, the tongue tells me how a person is digesting, how their lymphatic system functions, the quality of blood circulating in the body, the presence of yeast or other growths in the body, and any longstanding or constitutional conditions.

If there’s a problem with one of those things, I also get a general idea as to which organ is most affected and the prognosis for resolving it.

Understanding your Tongue

A healthy tongue should be pink, with no cracks in the body, neither swollen or atrophied, absent any sores, and with a thin white coating on top. Very few people have a normal tongue once they hit their mid-twenties.

Here is a photo of some of the more common tongue presentations and the signs and symptoms they correspond to:


It can vary a lot more than you think, and it can even vary in a single person from the start to the end of a day. If you want to check out your own tongue, the best time to do it is right after waking and before brushing your teeth or taking your morning coffee.

If you notice something strange, than it is a good time to go see an acupuncturist or herbalist, even if you have no real symptoms or diagnosis. Changes in the tongue can predate any serious medical issues, and it is better to be safe in getting an assessment than waiting and having to fix a major problem later.