Can WD-40 Really Help Arthritis?

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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.

Arthritis Folk Remedies

Arthritis does seem to be linked to its fair share of unproven folk remedies. Besides WD-40, these include gin-soaked raisins, copper bracelets, bee sting therapy, fruit pectin, magnet therapy. None to date has any evidence to support their use.

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 is unclear when the practice first began, but, as far back as 1997, medical researchers began investigating claims of WD-40 use in treating arthritis.

According to a research published in a 1997 issue in American Family Journal, the use of WD-40 for arthritis is simply an example of a folk remedy based on an incorrect premise.

In their notes, the researchers from Providence Hospital in Rhode Island concluded that: "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 Risks

As a result of its use in treating arthritis, the manufacturers of WD-40 issued a disclaimer, advising against the use of the product for anything other than metal lubricant or corrosion prevention. On their website, the manufacturer took the additional step of posting:

"This popular headline (claiming that WD-40 is beneficial for arthritis) 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."

Hazards of Petroleum Distillate Use

According to the New Jersey Department of Health:

  • Contact can irritate and burn the skin and eyes.
  • Inhalation can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs.
  • Petroleum distillates can be absorbed through the skin and may potentially affect the liver and kidneys.
  • Petroleum distillates can affect the central nervous system and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and loss of balance.
  • Petroleum distillates are flammable and cannot be readily put out with water.

The greater risks may come from excessive or prolonged exposure of petroleum distillates. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), high concentrations of the substance can lead to unconsciousness, while prolonged use may lead to the excessive drying and cracking of the skin.

How the Myth Was Perpetuated

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 that coolness of the spray is beneficial. 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. These including topical pain relief products that contain camphor, capsaicin, eucalyptus, menthol, salicylate, and wintergreen.

Researchers believe that the product has a placebo effect on some users. 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.

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