Observing the tongue and feeling the pulse are cornerstones of diagnosis in Chinese medicine. Many of us were told as kids that it was rude to poke tongues. In the clinical context it can be a great help in determining the cause of an ailment.
Asking a patient to show me their tongue elicits a range of responses from immediate confession of foods just eaten to childlike defiance or inquiry as to what can be interpreted from such examination.
The colour and shape of the tongue body plus the colour consistency and distribution of the tongue coating reveal much about the state of someone’s health.
In his book Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Macioca explains this method of diagnosis has been detailed in China since 403 BC and refined and expanded ever since (1997).
The advantages of tongue diagnosis over pulse taking are numerous. Firstly, the tongue body colour almost always reflects the true condition of the patient, as it and the tongue coating are relatively unaffected by short-term events or recent changes, such as a disturbing experience or vigorous exercise just before the consultation.
The tongue can be a useful gauge for monitoring improvement or decline of a patient’s condition; the tongue body colour more useful in chronic ( long-term ) conditions and the coating more useful in acute ( short-term ) conditions.
The correspondence of different areas of the tongue body to different organs is a subject of fairly general agreement.
Tongue diagnosis is relatively objective compared to pulse as distinguishing a certain colour is easier than the quality of a pulse.
Compared to pulse diagnosis,tongue diagnosis is easy to learn. It’s limitation compared to pulse reading is it’s lack of precision in differentiation of presenting signs and symptoms. Only by combining both tongue and pule taking can the practitioner have access to the full picture of a patient’s health.
Finally, please don’t clean or brush your tongue before a consultation as you’ll be destroying the vital indicators needed to make a complete diagnosis.