Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints and surrounding tissues.

Approximately 58.5 million people in the United States — 1 in 4 adults — experience at least one of the more than 100 types of arthritis. The condition may also affect children.

Healthcare professionals treat arthritis with anti-inflammatory medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But these may be costly and cause adverse side effects, like gastrointestinal and organ damage, in some people.

Thus, experts continue to explore alternative treatments that effectively manage arthritic symptoms without negative side effects. Treatments involving the use of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) could be one such alternative.

This article explains whether DMSO is a safe and effective treatment for arthritis management.

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Test-tube and animal research has demonstrated that DMSO may have anti-inflammatory properties that could help with arthritis symptoms.

One 2016 research review showed that the topical application of DMSO reduced the production of inflammatory compounds like cytokines in the joints and white blood cells of mice. It may be most effective at concentrations between 0.5% to 2%.

A 2021 study supported these findings and found that DMSO has great potential to reduce arthritis-related inflammatory compounds in the body and improve symptoms.

In related research, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) — a metabolite or derivative of DMSO — has been researched extensively and shown in human clinical trials to reduce inflammation and pain in the muscles and joints.

People generally recognize MSM as safe and sell it as a dietary supplement.

Still, experts need more human research regarding the use of DMSO for arthritis. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before using DMSO to treat your arthritis symptoms.

DMSO is a byproduct of the paper industry.

It is an odorless, colorless liquid that is an excellent solvent or carrier liquid, and it has a multitude of uses across various industries, including animal rearing.

In the 1960s, however, it was recognized as a potential therapeutic agent for the management of human conditions when scientists discovered that DMSO can effectively penetrate human skin and carry small molecules with it.

It has since been used as a carrier liquid for various pharmacological compounds in topical products and researched for a potential role in managing arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

DMSO is a registered substance with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is an approved treatment for the management of chronic interstitial cystitis, or bladder pain syndrome.

According to the National Cancer Institute, DMSO, under the name trametinib dimethyl sulfoxide (Mekinist), is FDA-approved for treatment of cancers involving BRAF gene mutations, including some melanomas and solid tumors.

However, DMSO has several unverified uses in the management of many chronic conditions.

DMSO is not currently FDA-approved for arthritis treatment.

Furthermore, the effects of DMSO are dependent on its dosage, and it may only be effective in a narrow range of 0.5% to 2% concentration.

For instance, at higher doses, DMSO was shown to reduce the levels and function of white blood cells, potentially compromising the immune system function.

Most commonly-reported symptoms were related to the gastrointestinal system and skin. But reactions were rare, mild, and short-lived.

At lower doses, however, side effects were not reported, but at 0.05%, DMSO did not offer any benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Reported symptoms also depended on the mode of administration. If applied topically, some people experienced skin reactions, but if administered intravenously, experts observed mild effects on the cardiac system.

Here are some questions people often ask about DMSO and arthritis.

Does DMSO relieve joint pain?

Owing to its anti-inflammatory properties, DMSO may relieve joint pain.

In mice research, it reduced inflammation in the joints, and in the case of human clinical trials with MSM, which is a DMSO derivative, joint pain was reduced.

A 2021 research review suggests that the anti-inflammatory benefits of DMSO may serve to improve joint pain. Still, experts need to preform more research to confirm this.

What are the side effects of DMSO?

At low doses, experts reported no or mild effects of DMSO. However, at higher doses, these side effect involved:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: nausea, vomiting, bad breath, abdominal cramps, stomach aches, and diarrhea
  • Dermatological reactions: itching, rashes, scaling, blistering, and hyperpigmentation
  • Cardiac and neurological symptoms: in rare cases

How long does it take for DMSO to work?

It is unclear how quickly DMSO takes to elicit its anti-inflammatory effects.

However, some research indicates that humans can absorb DMSO in 1 hour when they take it by mouth. They can then metabolize it in the liver into various compounds, including MSM.

Within 24 hours of consumption, the compounds excrete in the urine. Experts need more research to determine how long it takes to see the effects after consumption or topical application and how long they last.

DMSO is an odorless, colorless byproduct liquid of the paper industry.

It is an excellent solvent or carrier liquid that effectively penetrates human skin and carries pharmacological compounds when used as a topical treatment.

Although it is not yet FDA-approved for arthritis management, DMSO has anti-inflammatory properties shown to reduce joint pain.

It has the potential as an alternative or adjunct to mainstream arthritis medication with more human research on its safety and dosing. Please consult with a healthcare professional before using DMSO to treat your arthritis symptoms.