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Can WD-40 Really Help Arthritis?

Folk Remedies Are Potentially Harmful


Updated May 30, 2014

Bucklesman/Wikimedia Commons

Question: Can WD-40 Really Help Arthritis?

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 painful joints. Can the lubricant WD-40 really help arthritis? Let's dispel the myths.


WD-40 for Arthritis - Just Another Folk Remedy

Arthritis does seem to have its fair share of unproven folk remedies such as:

One of the more recent folk remedies involves using the lubricant WD-40.

What Is the Premise?

The premise seems simple enough, you spray or rub on a dose of WD-40 to free up stiff, painful arthritic joints just like they oiled up the Tin Man in the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz".

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/or 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., "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."

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.

As clearly stated on the UK website for the WD-40 Company, in response to the question "Can WD-40 be used for arthritis?", the reply is, "WD-40 is not a medical product. We would never recommend to people that they spray WD-40 onto the skin. Our recommendation is to see your GP (general practitioner) for expert advice on alleviating arthritis."

Why a Perpetual Myth?

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

Similarity to Topical Pain Relief Products

Some "think" it's only the coolness of the spray. Some may be experiencing a soothing feeling similar to that created by actual topical pain relief products.

Topical pain relief products are applied directly to your skin and can include:

  • balms
  • creams
  • gels
  • oils
  • lotions
  • ointments

Most topical products are available over-the-counter.

Topical counter-irritants 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
  • wintergreen

Massage Action

Some "think" it's only the massage action. Some may perceive benefits from increased blood circulation due to the massage action when any substance is rubbed into the skin.

The Placebo Effect

Some "think" it's only the placebo effect. It has been proven that when people believe strongly in a treatment their endorphins and natural pain mediators are enhanced. Also, arthritis characteristically has periods of flares and remissions. People may attribute feeling better to the WD-40 when it is truly due to a remission.

The Bottom Line

WD-40 is a popular product with literally thousands of household uses.

See: The Many Household Uses of WD-40

WD-40 is not a medical product and has no real value as a treatment for arthritis.

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