Leech therapy for osteoarthritis – Minimizing pain, optimizing function and reducing disability.

Leech therapy for osteoarthritis - Minimizing pain, optimizing function and reducing disability.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is by far the most common form of arthritis known today. It is strongly associated with ageing and is a major cause of pain and disability in older people. So, let’s learn about Leech therapy for osteoarthritis.

Pathologically, osteoarthritis may be defined as a condition of synovial joints which is characterized by focal loss of articular hyaline cartilage with proliferation (new growth) of new bone and remodeling of joint contour.

Inflammation is not a prominent clinical feature of osteoarthritis. OA preferentially targets certain small and large joints but is not a disease or a single condition.

OA is an important cause of disability and the second most common musculoskeletal problem in the world (30%) after back pain (50%). The reported prevalence of OA in rural India is 5.8%.

Risk factors in osteoarthritis

  • Increasing age
  • Female
  • Obesity
  • Smokers
  • Occupational knee bending
  • Physical labor

The disease follows a more severe course in women with greater symptoms, more extensive involvement, and increased prevalence of knee and hands joint involvement. In contrast, men have an increased prevalence of hip OA in western countries.

Joint trauma, malignancy, meniscectomy, and quadriceps weakness are important risk factors.

Clinical features of osteoarthritis.

The most important clinical features are a pain in or around the involved osteoarthritis joints is the cardinal symptom. Usually, it starts insidiously as an intermittent, localized, deep ache, often aggravated by joint use and relieved by rest, in an asymmetric fashion and then becoming symmetric.

The pain is persistent in nature and in advanced cases the pain during the night may be very disturbing. Knee joint involvement is typically associated with pain on descending or ascending stairs, squatting for the toilet, climbing into auto-rickshaws, rickshaws, buses, etc.

There may sometimes be locking or buckling of the knee joint. Hip involvement causes problems of gait and pain in the groin or medial part of the thigh.

Stiffness in joints on first awakening (morning stiffness) in OA usually lasts 5 to 30 minutes (average 20 minutes). Stiffness occurring after periods of rest or inactivity (gelling) is frequent and lasts for a few minutes. Functional impairment in OA is variable and depends on associated muscle wasting, weakness, and on radiological severity of the disease.

Signs of OA include bony swelling, crepitus (sensation of bone rubbing against the bone on movement), restricted movement, and deformity of joints, muscle weakness, and muscle wasting.

Clinical signs for osteoarthritis

  • Restricted movement due to capsular thickening, or blocking by osteophyte
  • Palpable, sometimes audible, coarse crepitus due to rough articular surfaces
  • Bony swelling (osteophyte) around joint margins
  • Deformity, usually without instability
  • Joint-line or periarticular tenderness
  • Muscle weakness, wasting
  • No or only mild synovitis (effusion, increased warmth)

Investigations procedures to diagnose osteoarthritis

  • Plain X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT- Scan)
  • Ultrasound is useful in assessing changes in periarticular structures like the baker’s cyst.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is done to investigating Bone marrow oedema, cartilage defects, meniscal tears, osteophytes, subchondral cysts, sclerosis, synovitis, and synovial effusions.

OA may not show radiological changes, while only 50% to 60% of patients with OA by radiograph are clinically symptomatic. A positive rheumatoid factor (RF) and an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate help in diagnosing RA.


The treatment of OA is aimed at minimizing pain, optimizing function and reducing disability.

Conservative treatments for osteoarthritis

  • Conservative treatment includes patient education and joint protection measures which include avoidance of poor posture and limitation of excess joint loading are important.
  • Patients Day-to-day activities may need alteration for relieving pain.
  • Avoid weight loading movements of the affected joints.
  • Weight reduction is most important in obese patients.
  • When the disease is relatively quiescent, low-intensity weight-bearing activity is safe and beneficial for muscle strength, mobility and a sense of well-being.
  •  But when the disease is inactive stage with significant pain and inflammation, patients should not overstress with exercise on the affected joints.
  • Quadriceps strengthening exercises are also important.
  • Supportive devices are often an adjunct to other modalities.
  • Application of superficial heat on periarticular tissue by hot packs and paraffin baths alleviates pain, relieves muscle spasm and decreases joint stiffness.
  • Deep heat by ultrasound and diathermy may damage cartilage and should be avoided.
  • Heat increases inflammation, hence, ice packs are more helpful for acutely inflamed knee or bursae.

Leech treatment of osteoarthritis

Today osteoarthritis has become a more common degenerative disease of joints. OA is more prevalent and more commonly symptomatic in women, except at the hip where men are equally affected. The most commonly used medicines are NSAID’s which main drugs of choice are in modern medicine.

But taking NSAIDs has a lot of side effects on the body which is not considered safe if taken for a long time. For treating osteoarthritis leech therapy is considered safe which is described in Ayurveda. Today various clinical studies have suggested that leech therapy when given to the patient of osteoarthritis is beneficial for the patients.

Need for therapy for osteoarthritis

Leech therapy when given to the patient of osteoarthritis, it improves the symptoms. Along with this leech therapy when given it gives relief from the pain which NSAID’s are not able to give. Leech therapy also decreases the negative effects produced during the treatment of osteoarthritis by other modes of treatment.

The patient after taking leech therapy for osteoarthritis has given positive results as this therapy improves the normal function of the joint. Leech therapy is used since ancient times for treating the localized pain of osteoarthritis.

Leech therapy procedure for osteoarthritis

For the treatment of osteoarthritis described in Ayurveda, the leeches taken for the treatment should not be too long or too small. Before applying the purification of a leech is done by pouring the leech in water mixed with the turmeric powder. Now the part of the body is cleaned before applying the leech on that part.

Now before applying the leech on the affected part a prick on the part is done with the sterile needle. This is done so that the drop of blood comes out which makes the leech easily to get attach when applying it from its front end. Now cover the area with the wet cotton. If the leech is not ready to attach to the skin for sucking the blood than apply honey or butter for its attachment.

Once the leech is applied on the affected part the central part of leech start distended which can be seen as a visible pulsation on the body of the leech.  The patient may have slight itching and burning sensation on the leech bite.

After 30 to 60 minutes Leech is removed. If not removed then the application of turmeric powder is used for its removal. After its removal, the blood comes out from the leech bite which can be stopped by applying the turmeric powder.

Benefits and side effects of leech therapy for osteoarthritis

Benefits of leech therapy

  • After the treatment, the knee pain starts decreasing.
  • Stiffness of the joint also decreases.
  • Therapy counters the side effects produced by another mode of treatment.
  • This therapy has anti-inflammatory properties so the inflammation in the osteoarthritis joints decreased.
  • Leech therapy improves the movement of the joints.

Side-effects of leech therapy

  • The patient may have severe bleeding at the site of the bite.
  • A patient can have severe anemia due to the loss of blood.
  • Some patients can have allergic reactions to the active substances of the leech saliva.
  • The patient can have severe weaknesses.
  • Patients scared to leech bite.

Patients given with leech therapy are seen with the relief of the symptoms like morning stiffness, restriction of movement of affected joints, crepitation of the joints, tenderness, and swelling of the joint. Leech therapy also improves the quality of life as in this therapy no such side effects produced like another mode of treatment.

Leech therapy also decreases the chances for joint replacement therapy in inpatient of osteoarthritis. Even leech therapy decreases the chances of surgery for osteoarthritis. This therapy even not produces dependency on treatment like in modern medicine.

So once the patient had taken therapy he/she can go to their home. The rest is advised first to the patient. After which the patient can do their daily routine work which was interrupted due to osteoarthritis.

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