Patients will sometimes ask me why their tongue is sore and what they can do about it. Their GP may have diagnosed a bacterial infection or perhaps prescribed a medicine to ease symptoms. Are there any other perspectives that might be helpful in this situation?
Western medicine, so often good at saving lives, will sometimes compartmentalise issues, and so a sore tongue is a sore tongue. Isn’t that obvious, I hear you ask? It is a cornerstone of Chinese Medicine that our wellbeing depends on the efficient functioning of interrelated systems, presided over by our internal organs. A delicate balance is struck between these organ systems which operate like a team. When one member misbehaves it may affect the whole side. Yin and yang, and the five elements are ancient models that describe these associations in detail and form a framework for our understanding of human functioning. To illustrate this point, our lungs hate being dry, but unless the kidneys take away any excess moisture they will flood (pneumonia). Hence the lungs and kidneys work in partnership.
In regular practice acupuncturists rely on a variety of indicators to assess a patient’s state of health. We ask questions (how are your bowels?), make observations (you are looking a little pale today) and assess through touch (pulse diagnosis). And of course there is tongue diagnosis.
The tongue represents a complete microsystem – that is a representation of the whole organism. Whilst a sore tongue may just be the result of accidental biting, by carefully observing the it we can arrive at observations about the patient’s state of well-being. Specifically we can make observations about energy levels, hydration and blood flow. Similar microsystems include the hands, ears, feet (foot reflexology exploits this), eyes and the abdomen. Tongue diagnosis is a pillar of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. To take an example if the tongue is dry we may assume the patient’s tissues are dry. By observing which part of the tongue is dry we can make further assumptions about which part of the body this pertains to.
Broadly speaking the tip of your tongue represents your head and the very rear your lower trunk and legs. ‘But what about my sore tongue?’ I hear you ask. This commonly points to anything that triggers the build up of heat, such as weakening of specific organs from (for example) worrying or aging. As well as soreness your tongue will probably be dry and your urine dark. You may suffer from night sweats.
Acupuncture treatment will focus on nourishing the affected systems and reducing the heat. You may be advised to avoid dietary factors such as spicy foods and eat easily digested food such as porridge, fish, vegetables and soup.
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Also see related blog If Only We Knew How To Listen
[Why is my tongue sore]