The C.A.M. Report
Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Fair, Balanced, and to the Point
  • About this web log

    This blog is intended as an objective and dispassionate source of information on the latest CAM research. Since my background is in pharmacy and allopathic medicine, I view all CAM as advancing through the development pipeline to eventually become integrated into mainstream medical practice. Some will succeed while others fail. But all are treated fairly here.

  • About the author

    John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.

  • Common sense considerations

    The material on this weblog is for informational purposes. It is not medical advice or counsel. Be smart, consult your health professional before using CAM.

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    Leeches to treat tennis elbow

    Chronic epicondylitis (tennis elbow) is a painful condition with few treatments.  It’s caused by overuse of the extensor muscles of the forearm.

    Researchers in Germany tested whether leech therapy might provide symptomatic relief.


    First, the details.

    • 40 patients with epicondylitis for at least 1 month were randomly assigned to a treatment group.
      • A single treatment with 2 to 4 locally applied leeches
      • A 30–day course of topical diclofenac (Voltaren, others)
    • Change in the pain sum score on day 7 (calculated from 3 visual analog scales for pain during motion, grip, and rest) was the main outcome measured.
    • Outcomes and safety were assessed on days –3, 0, 7, and 45.

    And, the results.

    • Treatment with leeches was associated with a significant decrease in pain vs topical diclofenac after 7 days.
    • On day 45, the difference between groups was reduced due to the delayed onset of pain relief with diclofenac.
    • Functional disability showed a significantly stronger decrease in the leech group, which was most prominent after 45 days.
    • Quality of life did not change.

    The bottom line?

    The authors concluded, “A single course of leech therapy was effective in relieving pain in the short-term and improved disability in intermediate-term.”

    They proposed, “Leeches might be considered as an additional option in the therapeutic approach to lateral epicondylitis.”

    A PubMed search revealed no other studies of leeches to treat tennis elbow.

    In a 2010 review, researchers from Germany concluded, “During the acute phase topical NSAIDs, steroid injections, ultrasound, and acupuncture are helpful. There is no consensus about the effectiveness of physiotherapy, orthoses [a device to control movement of the limb), laser, electrotherapy, or botulinumtoxin injections.”

    “During the chronic phase none of the different treatment modalities is effective.”


    5/11/11 17:20 JR

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