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

    This blog ran from 2006 to 2016 and was 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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