Can WD-40 Really Help Arthritis?

Folk Remedies Are Potentially Harmful

Bucklesman/Wikimedia Commons

Believe it or not, using the lubricant WD-40 for arthritis has become both an unproven and potentially harmful folk remedy for pain relief. Some people swear that the lubricant WD-40 can ease joint pain. But, can the lubricant WD-40 really help arthritis? Let's dispel the myth.

WD-40 for Arthritis - Just Another Folk Remedy?

Arthritis does seem to be linked to its fair share of unproven folk remedies.

The unprovem remedies include:

The premise for WD-40 seems simple enough—you spray or rub on a dose of WD-40 to loosen up stiff, painful, arthritic joints. Think Tin Man in the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz". Yes, just like that!

However, according to John C. Wolf, D.O., Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Family Medicine News (1998 archives), "In the case of WD-40, a great myth developed about its benefits in treating arthritis. It is easy to follow the flawed logic: WD-40 works wonders on stiff door locks, squeaky hinges, and rusted bolts. Therefore, it should make my stiff, sore, squeaking arthritic joints work better. Unfortunately, like all myths, this one isn't true."

Potential for Harm

A look at the WD-40 MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) shows that the product contains petroleum distillates.

Skin contact may cause drying of skin and irritation. According to the WD-40 MSDS, it is advised to wash with soap and water if you have contact with your skin.

Greater risks can come from prolonged exposure. According to the article, WD-40 for Arthritis? by Katherine Poehlmann, Ph.D. (2005), "To date, no credible scientific studies have shown any benefit from the use of WD-40 for arthritis.

In fact, there may be cumulative harmful effects."

I just checked for scientific studies yet again. In 2017, there is reference to only one scientific article on—but it is from 1997 and no longer available.

The History of WD-40

The product WD-40 was first developed in 1953 by the chemist Norm Larsen. The name WD-40 stands for water displacement, 40th attempt. The history of the product along with many fascinating facts can be found at the WD-40 company website, which also states, "The most interesting piece of WD-40's history is the uses for the product, now numbering in the thousands. The uses include everything from silencing squeaky hinges and removing road tar from automobiles to protecting tools from rust and removing adhesive labels. But they get a lot crazier than that. Over the years, thousands of WD-40 users have written testimonial letters to the company sharing their often unique, if sometimes just plain weird, uses for the product."

However, it should be noted that these are household uses, not medical uses. The WD-40 website states, "Headline: 'WD-40 Cures Arthritis'. This popular headline, appearing at least once a year in the tabloids, is completely FALSE. WD-40 Company does not recommend the use of WD-40 for medical purposes, and knows no reason why WD-40 would be effective for arthritis pain relief.

  WD-40 contains petroleum distillates and should be handled with the same precautions for any product containing this type of material."

Why a Perpetual Myth?

To date, while there have been no clinical studies to prove the efficacy of this practice, there are a few anecdotal theories as to why proponents of the practice might feel better:

  • Some proponents "think" it's the coolness of the spray. Some people may be experiencing a soothing feeling similar to that created by actual, legitimate topical pain relief products. Topical pain relief products are applied directly to your skin and can include balms, creams, gels, oils, lotions, and ointments. Most topical products are available over-the-counter. Topical counterirritants seem to work on relieving minor arthritis pain by creating a feeling of coolness (or warmth) over a sore area or painful joint. Topical products vary widely in their active ingredients and may contain such substances as camphor, capsaicin, eucalyptus, menthol, salicylate, and wintergreen.
  • Some proponents "think" it's simply the massage action. Some people may perceive benefits from increased blood circulation due to the massage action that occurs when any substance is rubbed into the skin.
  • Some proponents "think" it's the placebo effect. It is known that when people believe strongly in a treatment their endorphins and natural pain mediators are enhanced. Also, arthritis characteristically is punctuated by periods of flare and remission. People may attribute feeling better to the WD-40 when it is truly due to a remission.
  • The Healing Power of Placebos

The Bottom Line

WD-40 is a popular product with literally thousands of household uses. WD-40 is NOT a medical product under any circumstance, including arthritis.

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