Hirudo Therapy Areas of Application III
The leech and its effects
Leeches have it all! Since 2017, the new old form of therapy has also been used in Ayurveda practice in Graz for varicose veins, pain and swelling such as rheumatism and arthrosis, tinnitus and sudden hearing loss. Here is a more detailed description and (for the fearless) a small film ...
What exactly makes the leech so effective:
The leech's saliva contains more than 40 active ingredients that have not been fully researched. They inhibit blood clotting and inflammation, make blood and lymph flow again, and reduce pain over a long period of time. The popular opinion has spread that the leech would do something bad, e.g. suck the joint. But it is more about the introduction of the substances in saliva and their effects. The form of therapy in Ayurveda has been used as blood purifying therapy for thousands of years. Even in the recent past, the animals have also been widely used in European medicine, even in "conventional medicine".
For some years now, more in Germany than in Austria, there has been a strong demand for medical leech treatment again. Doctors and alternative practitioners in our neighboring country use a total of 350,000 leeches in one year alone. A study there showed a long-lasting pain reduction in a majority of the 200 patients with knee osteoarthritis examined. The application is very simple, you just have to pay attention to a clean environment, they absorb themselves and let go of their own accord when they are "full". The process takes about 30-90 minutes and you can feel a slight burning sensation. The saliva of the animals somewhat numbs the area. If the leeches do not fall off, remove them with a sterile spatula.
The leech does not secrete a wound-closing substance like the mosquitoes, which is why the subsequent bleeding can usually last 12 hours. I put on thick cotton bandages, so loose clothing and a day off for storage make sense.
The therapy is used for:
- varicose veins
- Broom tearers
Osteoarthritis (especially knee, thumb saddle joint, spinal degeneration)
- headache and migraines
- Tinnitus (ideal if not too long ago, little success if older than 1 year)
- sudden hearing loss (as with tinnitus, the leech is placed behind the auricle)
- wound healing disorders e.g. after surgery (not with circulatory disorders!)
- inflammation (shingles, tendonitis, and much more)
- muscle tension
At this point I would like to point out that the leeches can partially or permanently relieve symptoms, but they usually do not cure arthrosis. The effect is symptomatic.
Here too, preparation is half the job. The leeches do not like any strong scents or chemical substances, which is why you should not apply cream to the affected skin area or wash it with shower gels two days before treatment. It is also ideal to prefer a vegetarian diet a few days beforehand. According to traditional European guidelines, this diet still makes sense at least a week after treatment. Before applying, I warm cold skin with infrared. If the leeches still don't feel like sucking, I use a small needle to drop a tiny drop of blood - this makes everyone irresistible!
When better not to use leeches?
A current blood count helps to prevent excessive blood loss. 40 ml of blood come out of each leech, here I count the 12 hours after the therapy, in which the wound bleeds into the thick cotton bandage. I stop taking anticoagulant medication early enough, as with surgery. Ask your internist beforehand. A clear obstacle are allergies to leech components, which can rarely occur after previous leech therapy. Immunodeficiency due to therapy or diabetes should not be present, since the probability of a skin infection (erysipelas) described with 1: 10000 then increases. An arterial occlusive disease with impaired blood circulation should not exist, the skin is under-served due to venous congestion, but leeches can help.
As a rule, the treatment is relatively painless and without complications. Leeches are not uncommon for itchy skin that can be easily treated with Fenistil gel or healing earth when the small, Mercedes-star-shaped wounds heal, which can still be seen for a while. For this reason, I do not use leech therapy for cosmetic questions. Infection is very rare, but can be caused by scratching. It requires antibiotic treatment. With maximum therapy of 10 leeches per session and existing menstrual bleeding, there is a noticeable blood loss. Time interval to bleeding makes sense. Then do not use a sauna, overexert yourself and use shower plasters for 3 days.
Leech therapy for osteoarthritis
Treatment with leeches (Hirudo medicinalis) is a very old therapy method that is currently experiencing a “renaissance” due to current scientific studies. In clinical examination, the treatment of knee and thumb joint wear (arthrosis) has proven to be very effective. Further areas of application from experience and naturopathy are shoulder, ankle and back pain, rheumatism and tennis elbow as well as neuralgia (nerve pain, e.g. after shingles).
The effectiveness of leech therapy can be explained by the saliva, which contains anti-inflammatory, blood circulation and pain relieving components. The exact composition is not yet known.
Course of treatment
The area to be treated should not be provided with soap, creams, perfumes or other fragrances one to two days before the leech therapy, otherwise the leeches are difficult to attach. You should also avoid foods that sweat profusely over the skin (e.g. garlic). On the day of treatment, please only clean the skin with clear water.
In practice, depending on the location, 2 to 6 leeches are used by us. You can count on 2-3 leeches for a thumb joint and 4-5 leeches for a knee joint. The leeches look for a suitable place and then bite. You notice this with a slight (rarely moderate) twitching or burning. They then remain in place and suck a few ml of blood until they are "full". In the meantime, the leeches release their healing saliva into the tissue. This takes about 30 to 120 minutes, on average about 60 minutes. The twitching symptoms subside over time because the leeches also release pain-relieving substances. Most patients report that the treatment is tolerable.
When the leeches are "full", they let go and are mobile again. Then they are collected by our employees. The resulting small wounds should bleed for a few minutes to clean. Finally, they are provided with a pressure bandage, which they should leave until the next day. In a few cases there is more bleeding. In this case, please change the dressing yourself at home and press the bite marks for a few minutes. The next day, please introduce yourself for wound control. As a rule, the bite site can then be provided with a normal plaster that you should leave for about 3 days. As long as you should avoid water applications in this area (showers with protection, e.g. bag, glove or film - please do not go swimming for 1 week!).
Possible side effects and complications
In any case, you will notice a slight pain, burning or twitching during the leech treatment, which will subside significantly after a few minutes. A small scar will appear at the bite sites, which is initially red and swollen and will heal over the next few weeks. Very small pitted changes can persist for months to years, but are usually hardly visible.
After treatment, the region may occasionally become irritated, leading to increased pain for a few days. In addition - usually only with repeated leech therapy - a so-called "pseudo-allergic reaction" can occur with itching and rarely also slight reddening and swelling in the vicinity of the bite sites. Infection of the bite sites and possibly the surrounding skin areas (so-called phlegmon) is also very rare. Therefore, you should definitely introduce yourself to us as a check for increasing redness and swelling of the skin. Antibiotic therapy may be required in very rare cases.
The leech treatments are carried out by Dr. med. Gerrit Sütfels, who gained extensive experience in this field during his work in the clinic for naturopathy in Essen with Prof. Dobos and Prof. Michalsen.