Leeches And Arthritis Pain; Old Facts And New Insights

Leeches have been used for centuries, particularly in Europe, for the treatment of chronic conditions and for arthritis pain. A group of researchers under Dr. Gustav J. Dobos from the University of Essen (Kliniken Essen-Mitte) in Germany published a paper in the Nov. 4, 2003 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine (Ann Intern Med 2003;139:724-730,781-783) about the use of leeches in osteoarthritis, and particularly with knee arthritis.

In a randomized trial that lasted 91 days the researchers applied 4 to 6 leeches once to the knees of one group of 24 patients and used conventional diclofenac gel topical applications twice daily in a matched control group. On average the leeches fell off after 70 minutes. A simple pain score (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) visual analog scale pain scores) was used to quantitate the pain that the patients experienced in both groups. I have tabulated the results after 7 days of therapy and included the relative improvement in the pain score here, based on their data.

Leeches And Arthritis Pain; Old Facts And New Insights

Leeches And Arthritis Pain; Old Facts And New Insights

According to Dr. Dobos there are powerful anti-inflammatories and hyaluronidase in the saliva of the leeches that have not been defined further. Now that these initial investigations have shown a more than 3-fold beneficial effect of the leeches versus conventional anti-inflammatory therapy for osteoarthritis, it is the intention of the group to define the active pharmaceutical ingredient from the leeches further.

Relief from osteoarthritis knee pain using leeches or diclofenac
Arthritis therapy: WOMAC
pain scores improved…
Relative improvement
of pain score:
leeches (applied
from 19
to 52
diclofenac gel
(twice per day for 28 days)
from 42
to 52

Apart from pain control other beneficial effects such as improvements in ranges of motion, swelling and inflammation were also noted, again more so in the group treated with leeches. However, leeches have the disadvantage that they puncture the skin and that they can transmit infections (from Aeromonas hydrophila). It is hoped that in future medication can be developed from this line of work that can be taken in pill form without the dangers of applying leeches.

Here is a link to a review of osteoarthritis from the Net Health Book.

Last edited October 26, 2014

About Ray Schilling

Dr. Ray Schilling born in Tübingen, Germany and Graduated from Eberhard-Karls-University Medical School, Tuebingen in 1971. Once Post-doctoral cancer research position holder at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, is now a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M).