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Will DMSO Ease Your Aching Knees?

Some people like to apply DMSO topically for joint pain. Most of the research has focused on its use for interstitial cystitis rather than arthritis.
Woman rubs sore knee with anti-inflammatory ointment, close-up, medical, copy space

What do you know about DMSO? This chemical solvent, dimethyl sulfoxide, was discovered more than 150 years ago. By the mid to late 1960s, people were experimenting with potential medical applications. It has a reputation for fighting pain, and the FDA has approved its use to alleviate the excruciating pain of interstitial cystitis. However, many people promoting the use of this compound suggest that it should be applied topically–as it is on horses–to ease joint pain and inflammation. It is related to MSM, methylsulfonylmethane, which has also been promoted against arthritis pain. The evidence on both compounds is inconclusive, but at least one reader is enthusiastic.

Will DMSO Overcome Knee Pain?

Q. I have controlled my knee pain and other aches by applying DMSO liquid. It is available by prescription or at your local feed store. (It is used on horses’ legs.)

A. DMSO is useful in many diverse applications. It is easily absorbed through the skin and has been used to increase transdermal absorption of other drugs. 

Are There Clinical Trials?

Clinical trials are hard to conduct because many people report a garlic-like taste and odor. As a result, a placebo for double-blind studies is challenging. MSM is often taken by mouth, making placebo-controlled trials somewhat more feasible. Scientists found evidence that this sulfur-containing substance can ease knee osteoarthritis (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, June 27, 2011). However, another study found no clear benefit (U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, Oct-Dec. 2017). 

A review of animal and human research concluded that DMSO may have some utility in the treatment of arthritis, but better clinical trials are essential (PLoS One, March 31, 2016).  In vitro, the compound has anti-inflammatory activity, but that doesn’t establish its clinical utility (Molecules, Nov. 10, 2017).

We would discourage people from buying DMSO veterinary products. Prescription DMSO is available as Rimso-50 for interstitial cystitis. It is pricey, though. A 50 ml bottle is over $600. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Alternatives for Arthritis

This eGuide describes nondrug alternatives for arthritis with the latest scientific studies to document anti-inflammatory activity. This comprehensive online guide (too long to print) adds the science behind ancient healing traditions.

Alternatives for Arthritis
  • Debbi EM et al, "Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane supplementation on osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled study." BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, June 27, 2011. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-50
  • Tennent DJ et al, "A randomized controlled trial evaluating methylsulfonylmethane versus placebo to prevent knee pain in military initial entry trainees." U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, Oct-Dec. 2017.
  • Elisia I et al, "DMSO represses inflammatory cytokine production from human blood cells and reduces autoimmune arthritis." PLoS One, March 31, 2016. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0152538
  • de Abreu Costa L et al, "Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO) decreases cell proliferation and TNF-α, IFN-γ, and IL-2 cytokines production in cultures of peripheral blood lymphocytes." Molecules, Nov. 10, 2017. DOI: 10.3390/molecules22111789
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I am an equine vet. Years ago I quit prescribing the use of DMSO on horses for a single very important reason: as has been stated elsewhere, DMSO will carry ANYTHING that is on the skin (of horse or human) into the tissues and joints. I have seen the awful results of an owner failing to clean (and I mean CLEAN with soap, water, and copious rinsing) the area to be treated and then, when applied, the DMSO carried such things as fly spray and liniment from the skin into the affected joint. It is not pretty and is very painful to the horse to have a mildly sore joint become one on which the horse wouldn’t stand.

On the human side, I have twice seen owners use an animal DMSO product on their own elbows that they had previously treated with over-the-counter joint medications and yes, the DMSO carried the liniment into the joint. DO NOT USE DMSO unless a doctor has prescribed it and made sure you understand the serious side effects of using it improperly.

Years ago when I suffered from gout in the toes and knees, somehow I discovered DMSO. It worked within a day to alleviate the excruciating pain rather than letting a flareup run its course, which was usually a week or so. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I learned the cause of my gout problem, BEER! Yup, I no longer drink any alcohol because the pain of gout is not worth consuming adult beverages.

I have an old whiplash neck injury that was misdiagnosed at the time and not treated. As a result, years later I thought I had injured my arm. It was so sore I could hardly move it, and it came with a very stiff neck. Could not turn my head to the left at all. Saw an orthopedic surgeon and was told nothing was wrong with my arm that fixing my neck wouldn’t cure.

Prescribed a regimen of P.T. that was done professionally and then to be continued at home. This worked well for about 10 years, and then began feeling my toes becoming paralyzed along with some neuropathy. Back to the Surgeon. An MRI was done and the result was – there is nothing I can do for you – this will continue.

That’s when I started using DMSO. I still use the neck apparatus at home and, coupled with DMSO, I can turn my neck without pain. The paralysis of toes has stopped progressing, and any other place that develops arthritic signs gets DMSO as well.

I am extremely active physically at 79 and credit DMSO for allowing me to maintain my mobility. I have been using DMSO for almost 30 years! Pure Magic for me.

I have used DMSO on my horse for years. My vet told me to use it in conjunction with other medications to treat injuries, as the DMSO will carry the medication through the skin to the tissue below. My vet cautioned me to make sure the area to be treated is clean since whatever is on the skin surface will be transferred. I was advised to always wear gloves when using DMSO. I would be hesitant to use DMSO from the farm store on myself as it is intended for use on animals and may not meet safety standards for human use.

What is wrong with the veterinary products?

I use DMSO for knee and back pain, and I order it online.

I use a home remedy for knee pain: 10 drops orange essential oil and 10 drops ginger oil in 1 oz jojoba oil, applied nightly on the knee. It has given good results for both me and my husband.

I was introduced to DMSO by the owner of an animal supply store. His recommendation was for a fever blister.
If you dab some on your lip as soon as you feel the first sign of a ‘tingle,’ and repeat the treatment frequently, you will not get the blister at all!

I have used this ever since, and I never travel with out a small bottle of DMSO. I had many of my trips ruined by a whopper fever blister before I learned how to prevent one from developing. You will feel the sensation of it starting to work as soon as you place it on your lip. You stop when your lip feels normal again, no more sensation. If I start ‘dabbing’ early in the day, by the next morning I am O.K. He sold it for use on very expensive race horses. I now buy it at a local health food store. No prescription needed.

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