Can WD-40 Really Help Arthritis?

Folk Remedies Are Potentially Harmful

WD40
Bucklesman/Wikimedia Commons

Believe it or not, some people swear that the lubricant WD-40 can ease joint pain caused by arthritis. This is both an unproven and potentially harmful folk remedy and it's important that we dispel the myth.

Just Another Folk Remedy?

Arthritis does seem to be linked to its fair share of unproven folk remedies. These include gin-soaked raisinscopper bracelets and apparelbee sting therapy, certo fruit pectin, magnet therapy, and WD-40.

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. It's sort of like the Tin Man in the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz." The problem is that your body is not made of metal.

According to John C. Wolf, D.O. of 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

According to the WD-40 Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), the product contains petroleum distillates. Skin contact may cause drying of skin and irritation that may require medical attention.

Further, it is advised to wash with soap and water if it comes in contact with your skin.

Greater risks can come from prolonged exposure. According to Katherine Poehlmann, Ph.D., author of "Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Infection Connection," "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...Problems ranging from mild skin rash to severe allergic reactions have been reported. Prolonged exposure can cause cancer and other serious health problems."

One review in Arthritis Care & Research did look into various self-management strategies people used to relieve arthritis pain. What may help put the question of WD-40 into perspective is the fact that it is grouped with "home remedies" like motor oil, turpentine, snake venom, and bee stings. None of these would be recommended by your doctor. Further, those people that did try WD-40 stopped using it soon after they began.

From the WD-40 Company

The product WD-40 was first developed in 1953 by the chemist Norm Larsen as an industrial lubricant. The name WD-40 stands for "water displacement, 40th attempt." The arthritis link to the lubricant is so prevalent that the WD-40 company website includes the following statement regarding the myth:

"Myth: WD-40® cures arthritis.

Fact: 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 Is It a Perpetual Myth?

Despite the fact that there are 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. It's possible that people may be experiencing a soothing feeling similar to that created by legitimate topical pain relief products when they apply WD-40.

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. People may perceive benefits from increased blood circulation due to the massaging 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.

A Word From Verywell

WD-40 is a popular product that has many household uses. However, WD-40 is not a medical product under any circumstance and it is not safe for use on your skin or in your body. It's reported use as a pain reliever for arthritic joints is simply a myth. Rather than trying this folk remedy, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about proven topical pain relievers that are safe to use.

Source:

Keysor JJ, et al. Critical Review of Arthritis Self-Management Strategy Use. Arthritis Care & Research. 2003:49(5)'724–731. doi: 10.1002/art.11369.

Poehlmann K. WD-40 for Arthritis? RA-Infection-Connection.com. 2005.

WD-40 Company. Safety Data Sheet. 2014.

WD-40 Company. Myths, Legends, and Fun Facts. 2017.

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