For years I have known and used DMSO for the topical relief of inflammation and pain. It’s unfortunate that even after learning of the wonderful healing powers of a particular herb or substance such as DMSO, for some reason in the pursuit of new or different treatments sometimes we allow those that we once knew to be effective get lost in the fog of the past.

I recently had a problem with my left foot that affected my ability to walk. The verdict by a podiatrist was that it was an inflammation caused by wearing shoes that did not give my feet proper support. I discarded my old shoes which were evidently the culprit and purchased new ones fitted with properly supportive insoles to relieve the pressure on my foot. This gave immediate relief, but any time I failed to wear shoes with the insoles or even walk barefoot, the pain returned. One podiatrist offered a cortisone injection which he said “might work” and recommended I go on a course of acetaminophen (available over the counter in the form of Tylenol).

Aside from knowing the potential damage that acetaminophen can wreak on the liver,  I generally don’t use drugs before exploring other avenues of known relief. A substance I had not used for years came to mind: dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). I used to use it topically a lot with patients suffering from painful inflammatory arthritic and joint problems, and it was effective when used along with other therapies (acupuncture, moxabustion and herbs).

Derived from wood pulp, DMSO is an industrial grade solvent, able to penetrate and carry any substance with which it is combined through the skin. After washing my foot, I applied the DMSO at first three times, then twice a day for several days. Even after the first application the pain was noticeably relieved. After a week or so, I found I only needed to apply it one or two times daily for relief. I have since used it successfully on some minor repetitive injuries to my thumb from hours of piano practice. 

Like many wonderful natural remedies, DMSO is not an approved remedy for use on humans. It is sold specifically as a solvent not intended for human use except as an injection directly into the urethra for interstitial cystitis and as a preservative of organs intended for transplant.

With over 40,000 articles on its chemistry published in respected scientific journals and 11,000 articles written on its medical and clinical applications, one could hardly say that DMSO is just another unproven quack medicine. In fact, despite thousands of people successfully using DMSO for injuries and pain throughout the world, DMSO just missed FDA approval because of a single reported death of an Irish woman in 1965 who happened to be using it when she died.

While the FDA banned it based on this isolated occurrence, DMSO was approved and continues to be used by medical doctors throughout 125 countries around the world including Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan. The range of conditions for which DMSO is used is wide and varied beginning with pain, inflammation, gout, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sports injuries, back pain, fibromyalgia, and scleroderma, and it has even been found to relieve intercranial pressure caused by closed head injuries. Last but not least, it is commonly used on prized race horses.

So I have to say, at least insofar as DMSO relieving inflammatory pains is concerned, if it is good enough for your horse (even if you don’t happen to own one), it’s probably good for you.

DMSO has been called the first nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory substance discovered since aspirin. Unlike acetaminophen, it has no liver-damaging side effects. In 1978, after it was found to bring significant relief to nearly all of 213 patients suffering from inflammatory genitourinary disorder, DMSO was recommended by Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio for all inflammatory conditions not caused by infection or tumor.

Recently I have been treating a woman with painful interstitial cystitis. I began with a course of herbs and acupuncture treatments that were very successful but I also gave her a one ounce bottle of DMSO to rub over her lower abdomen twice a day. This stuff only costs a few dollars and she said it will probably last months. She’s been pain-free and instead of having to rise nearly every 15 or 20 minutes to urinate each night, she now only needs to go four or five times. You can imagine how much better she is feeling from having that much more sleep.

DMSO’s powerful ability to dissolve and carry anything with which it is mixed (or whatever happens to be on the skin) into the muscles, ligaments and blood can be an advantage when one wants to carry drugs or herbal extracts into the body through the skin. It has been used medically to optimize the absorption of medicines such as antibiotics, insulin, cortisone and other drugs. In fact, one popular treatment that some people on the internet have sworn by is to mix 15% DMSO with Vitamin B 12, a vitamin that is poorly absorbed orally, and apply it to the wrist or inside of the arms whenever you need a lift. I would recommend this to all patients to do immediately after chemo or radiation therapy to counteract the crippling debilitating effects of the drugs.

By the same reasoning, if you want to avoid the risk of absorbing undesirable contaminants, it is very important to wash the area where it is to be applied first, and to use gloves especially when applying DMSO on animals. Another point to consider is that DMSO may increase the effects of blood thinners, steroids, heart medicines, sedatives, and other drugs and this could be harmful or dangerous in some cases. In general, however, DMSO is very safe for use.

Some people may experience temporary moderate redness and itching when they first apply DMSO. I think it depends on the sensitivity of the individual and the area to which it is applied. In all cases I have seen this completely clear up within a few hours. However, as with any other substance applied to the skin, it might be good to first try it on a small ‘˜test patch’ and see how you react.

Recently I prescribed DMSO topically to be applied to a bad case of athlete’s foot. It was applied in the evening after washing the foot and in the morning the itch and inflammation was completely gone.

When purchasing DMSO remember that the sellers cannot give any advice or recommend it for human use in the USA. DMSO is sold as an industrial solvent (Like its near relative, turpentine, it will dissolve and remove paint from the walls). There are three grades of DMSO: industrial grade (contains toxins and is not for use with humans or animals); veterinary grade (widely used for race horses); and medical grade which is classed as a prescription drug. In the USA, it is sold as an industrial solvent which may or may not be the best quality.

There is much information on the internet about the healing benefits of DMSO. I encourage you to do your own online sleuthing and decide if it is something you could use.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Michael!

    I’m curious if you used the vet grade of dmso or if you got a prescription grade? If vet grade, could you tell me where you got it? I have dupretrens and have been reading this could help. Thx!

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