If you’re tired of the aches and pains associated with frozen shoulder, arthritis, muscle or ligament soreness, consider DMSO cream, a gel or roll on. It works to relieve the pain I’m experiencing in my shoulders, and enables some joint mobility.
DMSO cream, or any other version of DMSO, is controversial because too many people have made too many unsubstantiated claims about how it can cure some pernicious diseases like cancer. That’s a limb I won’t crawl out on. What I will do is tell you that DMSO cream is helping me — hopefully — avoid another bout of frozen shoulder, aka, “adhesive capsulitis”, a miserably painful condition that makes life miserably painful. And, as you’ll soon see, it’s helping many others that suffer from various aches and pains, such as arthritis, muscle and ligament soreness.
DMSO is short for Dimethyl Sulfoxide. It has a long history and has been used to help alleviate a long list of health issues.
- DMSO comes from a substance found in wood, is a by-product of paper making, and has been used as an industrial solvent since the mid-1800s.
- From about the mid-20th century, researchers have explored its use as an anti-inflammatory agent. DMSO has been used to try to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. It has also been promoted — without any evidence as far as I could tell — as an “alternative” cancer treatment.
- DMSO is easily absorbed by the skin. It’s sometimes used to increase the body’s absorption of other medications.
- The FDA has approved DMSO as a prescription medication for treating symptoms of painful bladder syndrome. It’s also used under medical supervision to treat several other conditions, including shingles.
- DMSO is available without a prescription most often in gel or cream form. It can be purchased in health food stores, by mail order and on the Internet.
I used it years ago to help topical herbal concoctions penetrate through the skin to help heal a persistent skin rash. As I was rifling through my bathroom drawer looking for something else, I spied two versions of DMSO that I forgot I had: a DMSO cream and roll-on. Remembering that it was supposed to relieve muscle/tendon pain via topical application, I grabbed the DMSO roll-on and, as you would use a deodorant roll on, rolled it over deltoid muscles.
Yes, my shoulders have been shouting at me of late, mostly the left one. This frightens me, because some years ago I suffered from frozen shoulder on the right side. That unhappy experience vies with two hemorrhaged disks in my lower back as the two worst experiences I’ve ever had with this body. As soon as I felt some restriction and pain emanating from the shoulders, I leapt into defense mode. I begin doing an assortment of shoulder mobility and stretching drills. (See shoulder stretch videos one, two and three.) And then, just two days ago, I found those long-retired DMO cream and roll-on products.
The relief was nearly immediate.
This relief did not from the stretching, although doing that improves shoulder mobility, giving them a fuller range of motion, but to get there I had to “grin and bear it”. In contrast to the shoulder stretch/mobility work, ten minutes after applying the DMSO cream (or roll-on), I felt pretty much pain free. The DMSO also helped my range of motion a bit simply because it enables me to go further into a stretch before feeling pain. This lasted for a couple of hours or more.
How can DMSO cream and other applications relieve the pain associated with bound-up shoulders, and various other aches and pains?
I did some research to find out.
The Research Supports DMSO Cream Benefits
It quickly became apparent during my DMSO research on PubMed and Google Scholar that much of it appears to have been done over thirty years ago. One double blind study published in 1986 that caught my eye, DMSO: Potential Usefulness In Physical Therapy, had a strongly favorable bottom line on DMSO:
“More than 80 percent of the patients in the rigidly controlled series had significant improvement with 60 to 90 percent DMSO [referring to DMSO concentration in a cream or gel solution, such as aloe vera]. None of the patients experienced good to excellent results with the placebo (10 percent DMSO).”
Not content to only wide on the waters of yesteryear, I continued with my research and found a 2016 study that looked at DMSO as an intervention for both cancer and autoimmune arthritis (aka rheumatoid arthritis). The researchers’ bottom line:
“[We] conclude that the use of DMSO as an anti-inflammatory agent in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis may have some merit but cannot support its use as an anti-cancer agent.”
I slugged on and found, gratefully, that renowned and trusted integrative health expert Andrew Weil, MD gave some support to my hypothesis that DMSO wasn’t just a placebo effect for my shoulder pain relief.
In an answer to the question, Could you please explain “frozen shoulder” and its causes? What is the appropriate treatment?, Dr. Weil both makes the following points about adhesive capsulitis and recommends DMSO cream to relieve it:
- Frozen shoulder (the medical term is adhesive capsulitis) is a painful condition that can also limit arm movement on the affected side of the body. It is probably the result of an inflammatory process that causes the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint to thicken and contract. As a result, the upper arm bone (humerus) has less space in which to move.
- The exact cause is unknown, frozen shoulder tends to develop after injury, overuse, or surgery that causes a period of immobility.
- Symptoms typically begin with pain that worsens when you move your arm. Eventually the pain lessens but the range of motion in the affected arm decreases, preventing you from raising it overhead or rotating it outward. Such ordinary activities as reaching into the back seat of a car and even driving (particularly if your car has a manual transmission) can become difficult. This can go on for months, even years.
- He recommends trying DMSO topically. You can buy it at your health food store or on the Internet. It penetrates the skin and promotes healing of pockets of inflammation. Make a 70% solution of DMSO by diluting a 100% solution with distilled water and apply it to the shoulder with absorbent cotton. Let it dry. Apply the solution three times a day for three days. If you don’t see any improvement, stop using it. If you do notice improvement, cut back to twice a day for three more days, then once a day for a final three days. After that your body can continue healing on its own.
Anecdotal, First-person Reports About DMSO Effectiveness Are Positive
As I sought more evidence to support my own experience of DMSO’s effectiveness, I ran into first-person stories on the Net of how awful people’s experiences were with frozen shoulder and the myriad of interventions they tried. DMSO cream or gel kept coming up as something that helped.
Mike McGarth wrote a detailed blog post detailing his battle with adhesive capsulitis that showed how much a motivated person can do to find a solution to a debilitating problem. First he reviewed the common three stages of a frozen shoulder:
- Freezing – a period of a few weeks to nine months where you get more and more pain. As the pain worsens, so does your range of motion. Move your arm the wrong way during this stage and you’ll experience pain that will drop you to your knees.
- Frozen – if you’re lucky, pain will subside during this phase, which can last four to six months. Range of motion remains extremely limited. making many everyday tasks difficult to accomplish.
- Thawing – the final phase, apparently lasting between six months to two years, during which the pain disappears and range of motions returns completely to normal.
Mike then went through an extensive number of interventions he tried for relief, and said this about DMSO cream:
I ordered a jar of 90% DMSO cream, which I just recently started applying to my shoulder every evening and after every chiro treatment. I’ve found it to be quite useful, and my most recent gains in range of motion have corresponded my use of DMSO. I’ll continue to try it.
Seeking more testimonials, I found DMSO Reviews and Ratings on WebMD. I’ll copy/paste a few so you can get a sense of people’s experiences using DMSO creams and gels.
From Msaep, 55-64 Female: I have what’s commonly called “frozen shoulder”. After doing extensive research, I started using the DMSO I’d had in my medicine cabinet- because I remembered it from the 70’s. I am almost completely pain free in two months- with the physical therapist calling me the frozen shoulder “wonder girl” – yet the guy at the health food store “warned” me against it. I have a bad stomach and can’t take any anti-inflammatories. This has saved me from excruciating pain!!!!!
From ellenann55, 55-64 Female: I have sore arches with I believe plantar neuromas developing in my left arch especially. I rolled the DMSO on 2x a day and all the pain & stiffness is gone after the 2nd day !!!
From fharmann, 75 or over Male: Low back pain, temporary relief for about 6 to 8 hours. Relief is immediate.
Reviewer 45-54 Female: I have had tendon problems in both thumbs and have received cortisone which would help for a few months or a couple years and then come back. Due to the docs office wanting $300 before they’d even see me I remembered I had some DMSO and tried in. Within a couple minutes the pain was gone and my thumb was working again. Hallelujah! I’m glad I have a lb. of it.
BOB747X, 45-54 Male: Back again. After hearing and reading more on Pensiad for arthritis and knee pain. I feel compelled to let the people know that ordinary DMSO 70-30 with aloe vera or distilled water will provide extensive relief from pain at a fraction of the cost of the prescription medication. I have noticed that alot of pensiad users are getting any benefit at all. They owe it to themselves to try the DMSO route. It positively cured the torn meniscus in my knee and my plantar in my heels and feet from years of competitive tennis. Shoulder and middle back spine pain have been all but erased also! I can not say enough super things about DMSO!! I as usual tell ALL my tennis friends and everyone I run across about it! The internet has Really helped spread the word!
There are plenty of more testaments about how DMSO creams and the like helped with people’s aches and pains on the WebMD site, most of them positive, but some people said that DMSO didn’t work for them, or irritated their skin too much.
Yes, the dermal application of DMSO (the only one I feel comfortable suggesting you might try, as ingesting it may be problematic) can cause a feeling of skin burn and itching. I experience some of this, but it vanishes after five minutes.
If you have sensitive skin:
- First apply a bit of DMSO cream or gel on an area with tough skin, like the ball of your foot, to get a sense of the experience; and
- Then put a light amount of diluted DMSO (if the product you have isn’t already dilutes), which you do by adding distilled water (distilled only).
The DMSO Cream and Roll-on I Use
The DMSO roll-on I’ve been using on my shoulders is the one you see in the picture of me above. It has no branding on it, other than a label saying “Distributed by Valhoma Corporation, Tulsa OK”. I chuckled when I found it online, because it’s an animal products company. Indeed, many people (including myself) first heard of DMSO from veterinarians and animal owners (especially equestrians) who found it worked well on relieving their animals from various aches and pains.
The DMSO cream I have used is on Amazon. It’s called DMSO Unfragranced Gel and contains 70% of 99.9% pure DMSO and 30% distilled water.
I’m not recommending either of them simply because I don’t know how well they compare with the many other choices that are available to you. If I buy more DMSO, my inclination would be to select among highly rated pharmaceutical grade brands, such as No Odor DMSO from Heiltropfen and DMSO Dimethyl Sulfoxide Low Odor. Both of these are pharmaceutical grade, come in glass bottles instead of plastic and are more than 99% pure. Note: it looks like both need to be diluted with either aloe vera gel or distilled water.
While I was searching Amazon for the roll on I use (which wasn’t there), I found Penetrex Pain Relief Roll-On. It was among the DMSO search results and had an average 4.5 rating from 1,038 users, so I was intrigued. Sure enough, DMSO is among its active ingredients, which also included some known pain relief and anti-inflammatory herbs such as arnica, glucosamine and boswellia serrata.
My bottom line on DMSO creams, gels, roll-ons and the like is that for most people they are safe for topical application, and have the potential to relieve the aches and pains associated with bruises, tears, arthritis, inflammation, etc.
As soon as I’m done with this post, it’s off to the gym I go for some weight lifting. But before I do that, I’m going to put some DMSO on my shoulders and hip joints, which also sometimes complain to me.
Remember these four things:
- There’s good science behind the effectiveness of DMSO creams and gels to relieve the aches and pains created largely by inflammation, soreness, swelling and the like, but no reliable science that it’s useful for much else, except (strangely) some bladder issues.
- It’s cheap and readily available, but it doesn’t work for everyone, and some people are put off by the stinging, itching, burning sensation when applied to the skin, and the garlicky/sulfur smell that DMSO can have. (I experience neither.)
- Try applying the DMSO cream, gel or roll-on on some tough skin before anywhere else to see how you tolerate it. You can also dilute it with aloe vera gel or distilled water.
- Anything present on your skin (medications, perfume, dirt, etc.) where you apply DMSO will get transported to your bloodstream fast — that’s what a solvent like DMSO does, so make sure you first clean whatever patch of skin before you apply it.
Last Updated on November 8, 2022 by Joe Garma