Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Arthritis Health Center

Font Size

Knee Pain From Arthritis? Try Leeches

Leech Saliva Relieves Osteoarthritis Pain; Could Lead to New Drug
WebMD Health News

Nov. 3, 2003 -- A new study shows the ancient medical practice of using leeches may provide a new arthritis pain reliever.

The study appears in the latest Annals of Internal Medicine.

In recent times, several anti-inflammatory and anticlotting substances have been found in leech saliva, writes researcher Andreas Michalsen, MD, with the University of Duisburg-Essen in Essen, Germany.

A pilot study shows that a single treatment with three leeches to the knee rapidly relieved osteoarthritis pain. In fact, topical creams containing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) also work to relieve arthritis pain, he says.

In this study, Michalsen and colleagues worked with 51 patients with knee osteoarthritis. Each was given a single treatment of four to six leeches applied to the knee -- or a 28-day topical cream containing the non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. Researchers monitored each patient's pain, function, and stiffness.

They found that, at day seven, arthritis pain was reduced considerably after leech therapy -- more so than with the topical cream. The leech therapy group also had better function and relief from stiffness.

After day seven, the improvements continued in the leech therapy group, until the study's end at day 28 --and although there was less improvement as time went on, patients who had received the leech therapy still reported better symptoms relief scores, writes Michalsen.

The research could lead to a new topical pain reliever -- minus the leeches, says Marc C. Hochberg, MD, MPH, with the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His commentary also appears in Annals of Medicine.

This discovery could ease not only patients' arthritis pain, but also help people with other causes of pain, he writes.

SOURCE: Michalsen, A. Annals of Medicine, Nov. 4, 2003; vol 139: pp 724-730, pp 781-783.

Today on WebMD

Mature woman exercise at home
Hint: Warming up first is crucial.
feet with gout
Quiz yourself.
woman in pain
One idea? Eat fish to curb inflammation.
senior couple walking
Can you keep your RA from progressing?
xray of knees with osteoarthritis
close up of man wearing dress shoes
feet with gout
close up of red shoe in shoebox
two male hands
Woman massaging her neck
5 Lupus Risk Factors