Epsom salts have a long history of therapeutic use. Composed of magnesium sulphate, when mixed into a warm bath, they are believed to offer potential benefits for muscle soreness and overall relaxation. While scientific evidence on their effectiveness is lacking, many individuals, including athletes, turn to Epsom salt baths as a complementary method for muscle recovery. Learn where Epsom salts come from, what they are and how to use them to ease muscle pain as well as what to consider when using Epsom salts.
A brief history of Epsom salts
Epsom salts were first discovered in the English town of Epsom, Surrey in the early 17th century. In 1618, a local farmer named Henry Wicker noticed something unusual when his cows were reluctant to drink water from this area despite a drought. Wicker’s cows, however, did not hesitate to walk through the waters, and soaked their legs in the salty water. The water was bitter in taste, but Wicker realised that following a soak in the waters, the wounds on the cows’ legs had healed more quickly. This observation hinted at the water’s therapeutic qualities, rich in what was later recognized as Epsom salts.
The waters of Epsom were found to have healing properties, leading many to travel to the town for its therapeutic benefits. Historically, these salts were often used to treat and provide relief from a range of ailments, from constipation to skin inflammations.
As more people heard about this, Epsom began attracting visitors looking for these health benefits, cementing its reputation as a wellness destination.
What are Epsom salts and can it help with muscle pain?
Epsom salts, despite their name, are not salts in the same sense as table salt. Instead, they are made up of a mineral compound known as magnesium sulphate. This distinction is crucial because while both table salt (sodium chloride) and Epsom salts share a crystalline structure – which is why they’re both called ‘salts’ – their chemical compositions and effects on the body are different.
Magnesium, a primary component of Epsom salts, is a vital nutrient for our body. It supports many of the body’s natural processes, such as muscle and nerve function and energy production.
The deficiency of magnesium in our diets or bodies can lead to muscle cramps/spasms, and fatigue. By providing an external source of magnesium through Epsom salt baths, many believe it can help in alleviating muscle pain and enhancing recovery.
On the other hand, sulphate, another component of Epsom salts, is believed to have its own set of benefits. When Epsom salts dissolve in water, they break down into magnesium and sulphate. Some sources say that during a bath, our skin absorbs these minerals, offering potential health advantages. That’s one reason why Epsom salt baths have gained popularity for post-workout recovery and muscle relaxation. However, concrete scientific evidence on this absorption is still forthcoming and there are no definitive studies to prove this.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the warm water itself used for Epsom salt baths can contribute to the feeling of muscle relaxation. Soaking in warm water can increase blood flow, relax muscle fibres, and alleviate muscle stiffness. This natural therapeutic effect of warm water combined with the properties of Epsom salts can enhance the overall relaxation experience. Moreover, the very act of taking a bath can serve as a form of stress relief, aiding in mental relaxation which can indirectly contribute to the relief of muscle tension.
Regardless, many individuals, especially athletes and those with strenuous physical activities, swear by Epsom salt baths to help them relax and recover, easing muscle tension and stiff joints.
Whether it has genuine physical healing properties, or if the result is due to a placebo effect, the comfort and relief many people claim to experience makes an Epsom salt bath worth considering. It’s essential to remember that the effectiveness of this treatment might vary from person to person, and it shouldn’t be seen as a standalone solution. Instead, it’s best used in conjunction with other therapeutic methods, medications, or treatments to maximize potential benefits. If you are experiencing persistent or unusual pain, it’s best to speak with your doctor about the possible treatments.
Are there any side effects of taking an Epsom salt bath?
Epsom salt baths are generally considered safe for most people and have been used for centuries for various therapeutic purposes. However, you might want to keep the following in mind:
- Skin Reactions: Some individuals might experience skin irritation or allergies after using Epsom salts. If you have cuts, open wounds, or sensitive skin, the salt might cause a burning sensation. You can test a small patch of your skin first if the wound is minor or avoid it until the wounds heal up.
- Dehydration: Soaking in an Epsom salt bath can potentially lead to dehydration if you stay in it for too long. Ensure you drink plenty of water before and after.
- Avoid Oral Use: While there are specific medical scenarios where Epsom salts might be ingested under guidance (like for its laxative effect), they shouldn’t be consumed without advice. Ingestion may not be suitable for everyone, especially pregnant women, and children. Oral consumption may also cause diarrhoea and excessive magnesium intake can lead to flushing, drowsiness, fainting or a slow heart rate.
How to take an Epsom bath salt for muscle pain relief
- Dissolve Epsom Salt: Add Epsom salt to warm running bathwater, approximately 2 cups are a good amount (adjust quantity based on preference).
- Mix thoroughly: Stir until the Epsom salt dissolves completely.
- Soak and relax: Immerse yourself in the bath for at least 15 minutes (maximum 30minutes) keeping your face above waterline for comfort. Remember not to use water that’s too hot, especially if you’re soaking for aches and pains, as overly hot water might worsen swelling rather than reduce it.
- Pat Dry: Gently pat your skin dry after the bath.
- Keep Hydrated: Remember to drink water before and after your Epsom salt bath to stay hydrated.
Epsom salts have a long history and combining these salts in warm baths has shown promise in easing muscle pain for some individuals. However, their effectiveness is yet up for debate and can vary depending on the person and the nature of their condition. While scientific evidence may not provide a definitive answer, many find these baths to be a soothing addition to their muscle recovery routine. So, if you’re seeking relief from muscle pain or minor discomfort, it might be worth trying Epsom salt baths. Keep in mind that personal experiences and the specific type of pain you’re dealing with can influence the results, making it a case of finding what works best for you. For persistent or more severe pain, it is best to seek professional health advice and treatment.
- Medical News Today. “Epsom salt: Benefits, uses, and side effects.” Accessed on (2 June, 2020).
- Medical News Today. “How to use Epsom salt for constipation relief.” (June 16, 2018).
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Constipation.”
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. “Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Consumers.” (March 22, 2021).