Can WD-40 Really Help Arthritis?

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.

A can of WD-40
 rBucklesman / Wikimedia Commons

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 it on to loosen up stiff 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.

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 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
  • Absorption through the skin may affect the liver and kidneys
  • Contact can affect the central nervous system and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and loss of balance
  • It's flammable and fires 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.

Perpetuating the 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 the spray's coolness is beneficial. It's possible that people may experience a soothing feeling similar to that created by legitimate topical pain relief products that contain camphor or capsaicin,

Researchers believe the product has a placebo effect on some users. It's known that strong belief in a treatment enhances endorphins and natural pain mediators.

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, it's not a medical product under any circumstances and it is not safe for use on your skin or in your body. Its 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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Article Sources
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  1. UpToDate. Patient education: Complementary and alternative therapies for rheumatoid arthritis (Beyond the Basics). Updated February 12, 2019.

  2. OSHA. Petroleum distillate fractions. Updated November 1984.

  3. Peciña M, Heffernan J, Wilson J, Zubieta JK, Dombrovski AY. Prefrontal expectancy and reinforcement-driven antidepressant placebo effects. Transl Psychiatry. 2018;8(1):222. doi:10.1038/s41398-018-0263-y

  4. Merck Manuals. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Updated February 2019.

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