If you suffer from arthritis, then you’ll already know the soothing effects of a warm bath or shower on the joints. However, could this treatment be made even more effective by simply adding in bath salts?
Soaking in Epsom Salts to help arthritis seems to have been a successful remedy for many looking for an easy home-based treatment. Epsom salts are widely available in most supermarkets, health food shops and pharmacies.
But does it actually work and are Epsom Salts good for you? We took a deep dive into the research to bring you the facts.
What are Epsom Salts?
People have been using Epsom Salts as a tonic for many ailments for over 100 years. Most commonly, people have been known to put it in their baths to relieve aching muscles or help with skin problems.
Less common uses include sprinkling them on flower beds to deter slugs or mixing them with conditioner to give hair volume!
The active ingredient in Epsom Salts that is believed to be beneficial to health, is the high concentration of magnesium. As modern lifestyles have resulted in many people having a deficiency in this mineral, boosting magnesium has far-reaching benefits.
As the name suggests, Epsom salts do originate from Epsom, England, where it was discovered in natural underground springs in the early 17th century; but isn’t actually salt as we know it.
Did you know? – Epsom Salts are a compound of magnesium, sulphur, and oxygen – unlike sea salt which is mostly sodium chloride.
Epsom salt is also not the same as Dead Sea salts, which are a combination of minerals that are found in the Dead Sea in Israel. When dissolved in water, Epsom salt releases magnesium and sulphate, the key ingredients in most spa mineral baths.
Both magnesium and sulphur are thought to be helpful to the body and seem to be absorbed effectively through the skin when bathing in Epsom salts.
People have been known to use Epsom salts to help relieve the following conditions:
- Arthritis pain and swelling
- Bruises and sprains
- Ingrown toenails
- Sore muscles after exercise
- Sunburn pain and redness
- Tired, swollen feet
Why is Magnesium important?
Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral – in fact, it is needed by every cell in the human body and is required for more than 300 biochemical processes & enzyme reactions.
Some of the functions for magnesium in the body include:
- Easing chronic and muscle pain
- Relaxing muscles
- Improving heart health
- Preventing constipation
- Improving bone density
- Contributing to muscle building
- Lowering the risk of diabetes
- Aiding in collagen formation which helps skin, hair and joints
However, research shows that large numbers of people – possibly as much as 80% of the population – may be suffering from chronic magnesium deficiency.
Causes of magnesium deficiency range from eating too many processed foods, saturated fat, sugar, carbonated drinks and not eating enough whole foods such as leafy greens which contain the mineral. Stress, alcohol and taking some medications can also deplete the body’s magnesium levels.
Simply topping up these levels using magnesium supplementation such as Epsom salt, is thought to provide the body with what it needs to heal naturally.
Epsom Salt Baths vs Regular Baths for Arthritis
When you have chronic pain or arthritis, the physical benefits of soaking in a hot bath or shower can be extremely comforting. The heat from the water is soothing on stiff joints and aching muscles.
Furthermore, the simple act of a self-care practice can help to relieve stress caused by pain, which is very important for managing chronic conditions like arthritis.
Whilst the thermal and mechanical benefits of warm water on improving joint mobility and muscle pain are well-known within research studies, the evidence for the chemical benefits of Epsom salt is mixed.
Some studies show Epsom salt baths, otherwise known as mineral baths, increase certain cells that mediate inflammation and enhance circulation and breathing, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on patients suffering with arthritis.
Along with reducing inflammation, research also points to an increase in endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, after Epsom bath soaks.
However, there is disagreement in the medical world as to how much magnesium or any other minerals can be absorbed by the skin. More studies are needed to determine this to help to understand what dosage, if any, is effective for patients.
Promising recent research has emerged from Turkey highlighting the positive effects of mineral baths on patients specifically with osteoarthritis. Within the study, a higher percentage of older people with knee osteoarthritis improved with mineral baths alongside physical therapy than with a personal trainer alone.
However, although bathing in minerals such as Epsom salts improved outcomes across a variety of types of arthritis, this study also discovered those with hip osteoarthritis did not improve significantly in either pain or functioning. This could indicate that deeper joints are harder to soothe than those closer to the surface of the skin.
Mixed results have emerged from a 2018 review when looking at the effects of mineral baths and Rheumatoid Arthritis, although individual studies do highlight some benefits.
In another study from Turkey, people taking Rheumatoid Arthritis medication improved with 2 weeks of ‘spa therapy’ added. A 2016 study from Portugal also showed better function in those with Rheumatoid Arthritis when given 21 days of mineral bath treatment than with standard treatment alone.
According to a review conducted by Italian researchers, significant improvement in joint and spine symptoms, as well as the skin, was found with participants suffering with psoriatic arthritis.
It is understood that Epsom salts and other mineral baths ease inflammation found in psoriasis by breaking down a build-up of protein called keratin on the skin’s surface.
How to have an Epsom salt bath for arthritis at home
One of the fantastic benefits of Epsom salt baths is the ease of being able to have it at home rather than attending a spa or treatment centre. This allows you to experiment for yourself and see if you can feel the benefits of your personal arthritis symptoms.
- Fill your tub. Run your bath as you normally would, being mindful of the temperature. You want to be warm and comfortable but people with decreased sensation e.g., those with nerve damage, should be particularly careful not to let the water get too hot.
- Add the Epsom salts. Be generous with the salts, adding around 1-2 cups under the running tap to allow it to dissolve.
- Soak for around 20-30 minutes. This allows time for the magnesium to absorb into the skin.
- Apply moisturiser – Epsom salt baths can be drying for some people, so applying a natural moisturiser can be beneficial once you are out of the bath and dried.
- Drink water. Epsom salt baths can also be dehydrating, especially if you stay in for a long soak. Hydrate afterwards with a glass of water.
- Make it a routine. You are more likely to notice a difference with this treatment if it is performed regularly. Studies showing benefits in spa soaks were seen after two to three weeks of daily baths, however you may choose to do this 2-3 times a week over a longer length of time to gain the same benefits over time instead.
Other treatments using Epsom salt therapy
If you want to take the Epsom salt baths for arthritis to the next level, then perhaps consider a Flotation Tank experience. Not only is the concentration of Epsom salts in a float pod much denser than in a normal bath, but there are also other health benefits on top of those provided by Epsom salts and the magnesium it contains.
The concentration of Epsom salts is so high, in fact, that you float effortlessly in the water which is kept steadily at body temperature for maximum comfort. This allows tired, aching muscles and joints to relax as there is no weight bearing down on them whilst you are fully supported by the water.
A complete lack of sensory input in the dark, silent space means your mind can fully relax too, producing dopamine and endorphins supporting your painful symptoms further.