Question: My Dad worked in construction and after an especially hard day he would dump some epsom salts in a hot tub nd soak until dinner. He claimed it took the “kinks” out of his joints. My mom used an epsom salt soak to help remove splinters and relieve sore feet after a day in heels. Do epsom salts really work or is this another old wives tale?
Answer: Epsom salts have been a home remedy for centuries. Chemically it is a mix magnesium and sulfates and named after Epsom in England where it was first made by boiling down mineral water. My family were also big fans of epsom salts for sore feet and splinter removal. But despite centuries of use, finding published studies on the benefits of epsom salts proved incredibly difficult. There is practically no evidence that soaking in epsom salted water has a beneficial effect on the body. However centuries of aches and pains have led to three theories on why it works:
Theory #1: Epsom salts makes the water “feel” nicer. Epsom salt ehanced water feels softer, smoother and gives a slight buoyancy. By reducing the pull of gravity there is less stress on sore muscles and joints. Some researchers have speculated that the comfortable hot water encourages people to relax and stay in the bath longer. Heat alone can help heal sore muscles but people often rush through bath treatment. Epsom salts make the bath more enjoyable and people stay in for the full recommended treatment time.
Theory #2: As the name implies, epsom salts is a salt and as such can affect water levels in the body. The higher sodium levels in the bath water encourage the body to equalize by drawing water out the tissues. Since achy muscles are usually swollen with water, drawing out water reduces pain from swelling. This might also be why epsom salts releases splinters. It pulls moisture from the skin around the splinter providing better access for removal.
Theory #3: There is alot of buzz about absorbing magnesium from an Epsom salt bath. Magnesium is an essential mineral and important for management of a wide range of body functions including heat regulation, energy and the formation of bones and teeth. There are experts who believe this to be true and there are even a few studies that support this theory of absorption. But keep in mind that magnesium sulfate is infamous as a powerful laxative that is used in the dreaded colonoscopy prep. If we did absorb it from a bath, it could cause world class diarrhea.
To bottom line it, there is anecdotal evidence that epsom salts are helpful for aches and pains. If it works for you its good to know its safe to use. If your joints and muscles are still aching after the bath, think about an anti- inflammatory diet, vitamin B12 supplements or heated salt packs.