Just one application of leeches to an arthritic joint may help reduce pain and stiffness dramatically, according to a small German study. Patients with arthritic knees who received a treatment with leeches reported better and more long-lasting pain relief than similar patients who received prolonged therapy with a topical drug.
Researchers compared the degree of pain relief in 24 patients who received a single leech application with a group who received a 28-day regimen of topical diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Patients in the experimental group had four to six leeches applied to painful points on and around their affected knees for about 70 minutes, until the leeches detached on their own.
Seven days after completing therapy, pain scores had decreased much more among patients treated with leeches than among those treated with diclofenac. Patients treated with leeches also continued to report relief of stiffness and other arthritis symptoms and to enjoy improved function throughout 91 days of follow-up.
Researchers say anti-inflammatory substances and other chemicals in leech saliva may explain the symptom relief.
"Effectiveness of Leech Therapy in Osteoarthritis of the Knee," Annals of Internal Medicine, A. Michalsen, et al., November 4, 2003.