In Acupuncture, what is a Tongue Diagnosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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According to the precepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tongue can be used as a diagnostic tool to assess the health of a patient. A tongue diagnosis is a diagnosis of a condition based on the condition of the tongue. Many acupuncturists use the tongue, as do Chinese herbalists and other TCM practitioners. Centuries of study have been conducted on the tongue and its properties, and it is said that a look at the tongue can reveal a great deal about the patient.

To perform a tongue diagnosis, a TCM practitioner typically asks the patient to simply open his or her mouth, allowing the practitioner to observe the tongue. The patient may be asked to stick out the tongue, allowing a complete view, or to move it around to assist with diagnosis. The practitioner notes down his or her findings, and in many cases may make a diagnosis on the appearance of the tongue alone.

Typically, a tongue diagnosis is accompanied with a brief patient interview, so that the practitioner understands the general symptoms of the patient, along with his or her state of mind. Other aspects of the patient's body may be examined, especially the pulse lines which play such an important role in TCM. After the examination is over, the practitioner will make recommendations such as herbs to take, dietary changes, or procedures like cupping, acupuncture, or acupressure.


A tongue diagnosis relies on the idea that different regions of the tongue govern different body parts and anatomical systems. These regions can provide clues to underlying ill health in different parts of the body, such as cancers or infections. The overall shape of the tongue is a general systemic indicator, with the TCM practitioner considering width, thickness, and other factors to come to a more general understanding about the patient.

The color of the tongue is an important part of a tongue diagnosis, with different colors reflecting different problems. The texture of the tongue is also considered, along with the coating on the tongue, which is known as moss in TCM. The moss can supposedly provide information about specific conditions affecting the patient; since the tongue does acquire a thick coating in response to certain illnesses, this is actually quite logical.

Once a TCM practitioner has considered all of the properties of the tongue, he or she can offer a tongue diagnosis. The goal is to achieve systemic balance, often through a variety of means. In addition to treating any major conditions which appear, the practitioner will also strive to bring healthy balance to the patient.


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Post 1

And you have to make sure not to brush your tongue before you go in or it messes up the diagnosis!

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