beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

To find a doctor, call 800-667-5356 or click below:

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

left banner
right banner
Smaller Larger

Leech Therapy May Improve Arthritic Pain and Functionality

Leeches gained popularity in modern medicine in the 1980s when studies showed they were effective in helping damaged tissue regain normal blood flow. When a leech bites into skin, it releases an anticoagulant that stops blood from clotting and an anesthetic that decreases pain. The wounds left by leeches are known to bleed for several hours after removal. This helps the backed up blood evacuate the area. Research on knee osteoarthritis has also shown that leech therapy may be helpful in decreasing pain and stiffness in joints.

Researchers from the Academic Teaching Hospital in Germany designed a study to review the benefits of leech therapy for osteoarthritis of the thumb. The study published in the Pain journal showed promising benefits of leech therapy for osteoarthritis.

About the Study

The randomized trial had 32 female participants with painful osteoarthritis in the thumb saddle joint. The women were assigned to one of two groups:
  • A single treatment of 2-3 locally applied leeches
  • 30-day course with a standard treatment of topical diclofenac twice daily
Over 60 days, researchers recorded feedback from the participants. Compared to the diclofenac group, the leech group reported significantly better rates of:
  • Pain relief
  • Functionality
  • Quality of life
  • Grip strength

How Does This Affect You?

Although the study was small, the results are supported by similar results in other leech therapy studies. More work will need to be done to confirm that these benefits do exist and are not due to chance .

If you have osteoarthritis, talk with your doctor to develop a plan. Lifestyle changes, medication, and therapeutic techniques can help you manage the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.




  • Michalsen A, Ludtke R, Cesure O, et al. Effectiveness of leech therapy in women with symptomatic arthrosis of the first carpometacarpal joint: a randomized controlled trial. Pain . 2008 Jul 15;137(2):452-9.

Last reviewed October 2008 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Search Your Health