Does DMSO (Dimethyl Sulfoxide) Work For Pain?

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses whether or not DMSO (Dimethyl Sulfoxide) is effective for pain.

Does DMSO (Dimethyl Sulfoxide) Work For Pain?
Mar 16, 2018

Buddy asked

What is DMSO and can it be used to reduce pain?


DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) For PainThere hasn't been a lot of research regarding the use of DMSO for pain, but preliminary evidence suggests it may be beneficial for certain conditions and may have the following properties:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Analgesic
  • Antioxidant

Below, we discuss DMSO in more detail.

What Is DMSO?

DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) is a solvent for polar molecules and for many organic and inorganic substances. Solvents simply dissolve a "solute" which results in a solution. As an example, water is a solvent when used to dissolve salt, the solute.  

DMSO has several unique properties and has a variety of uses including:

  • DMSO is used extensively industrially as a solvent for a variety of substances.
  • DMSO facilitates topical penetration of many medications (i.e. helps topical preparations penetrate the skin).
  • Preliminary evidence suggests DMSO may be an effective pain reliever for certain conditions.
  • DMSO, as a 50% solution, is FDA approved treatment for interstitial cystitis, an inflammatory bladder condition.

Does DMSO Help To Relieve Pain?

Although DMSO hasn't been well researched as a pain reliever, evidence suggests that it may block the conduction of nerve signals responsible for pain symptoms. In addition, for arthritis specifically, DMSO may reduce pain and inflammation, and inhibit degenerative joint changes according to studies. It may do this by:

  • Stabilizing cell membranes
  • Reduce leakage from injured cells
  • Scavenging free radicals
  • Improve cartilage formation (due to the sulfur content of DMSO)

DMSO also may help alleviate neuralgia symptoms. Studies have shown potential benefit for herpes zoster blisters and post-herpatic neuralgia.

For the FDA approved indication of interstitial cystitis treatment, DMSO is thought to affect sensory nerves and stimulate the release of nitric oxide, relieving pain.

How Is DMSO Used?

DMSO is used topically and penetrates the skin easily. It is often added to other products as DMSO facilitates the absorption of other substances when used topically.

Topical DMSO products with concentrations ranging from 5% to 100% have been used for a variety of indications. For arthritis for example, preparations ranging from 25-70% have been used up to four times daily for relief of symptoms.

Is DMSO Safe?

There is some controversy regarding whether or not DMSO is safe. As discussed above, DMSO readily penetrates the skin and could potentially enhance or improve the absorption of impurities and other substances, some of which could be harmful.

When used topically, skin reactions appear to be the most common side effect and have been found to be mostly reversible after discontinuing the drug. Specific skin reactions include:

  • Redness
  • Blistering
  • Burning
  • Dry skin
  • Scaling of skin

Additional DMSO Information

While not recommended, preliminary evince suggests DMSO may be beneficial for the prevention of peptic ulcers. One study showed that taking 5 mL of 10% DMSO four times per day for one year is more effective than Tagamet for treating duodenal ulcers in individuals infected with H. pylori. However, DMSO isn't recommended to be taken orally as the safety of oral preparations isn't known and industrial grade DMSO may contain harmful impurities.

Lastly, some of the best evidence of benefit for DMSO is for extravasion with chemotherapy drugs. When these drugs are administered, some exude into surrounding tissues and the effects of this can be significantly damaging, potentially causing cell death. Multiple studies have shown that applying DMSO topically can to help prevent tissue necrosis (i.e. death) after extravasation with anti-cancer drugs.

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