Why Take an Epsom Salt Bath?

You pulled a muscle lifting weights at the gym. Or maybe your arthritis is acting up. Is there anything you can do, besides wait it out?

Your grandma could have the answer. Epsom salt has been used for hundreds of years to ease all kinds of aches and pains. A simple soak in the tub may help you feel better.

What Is It?

Despite the name, Epsom salt isn't like the stuff you put on your fries. It's called a salt because of its chemical structure. The "Epsom" part is a place in England where it's found in natural springs.

You can find it in most drugstores, usually around the aspirin and laxatives. Many grocery and natural food stores also carry it. A large box costs just a few dollars.

It's not the same as Dead Sea salts, a blend of minerals found only in the Dead Sea in the Middle East. The water and light there supposedly help skin diseases, arthritis, and other health problems.

Epsom salt is also different from fancy bath crystals. They may not be made from the same chemicals. Plus they often have oils, colors, and perfumes to relax you and soften your skin.

How Does It Work?

In water, it breaks down into magnesium and sulfate. The theory is that when you soak in an Epsom salt bath, these get into your body through your skin. That hasn't been proven, but just soaking in warm water can help relax muscles and loosen stiff joints.

People use Epsom salt baths as a home treatment for:

While there are plenty of folk remedy claims, there aren't a lot of studies to back them up. Taking this type of bath probably won't hurt you, but if you have health concerns, check with your doctor first.

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How to Take an Epsom Salt Bath

The water should be very warm -- not hot, but comfortable to the touch. Add the Epsom salt while the water is running to help it dissolve.

For a standard-sized tub, use the amount suggested on the package, usually 1 to 2 cups, or the amount recommended by your doctor. Don't use Epsom salt in a hot tub, whirlpool, or other tub with jets unless the manufacturer says it's OK.

Keep the part of your body that hurts in the water for at least 12 minutes. Just relax.

Check with your doctor about how long and how often you should soak. You may need to do it just once for an ingrown toenail, or every day if you have arthritis pain.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on July 20, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Rudolf, R.D. Canadian Medical Association Journal, December 1917.

Epsom Salt Council: "About Epsom Salt," "Soaking," "Frequently Asked Questions."

Rosemary H. Waring, PhD, DSc, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, England.

Taz Bhatia, MD, director, The Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine, Atlanta, GA.

"OARSI Guidelines for the Non-Surgical Management of Knee Osteoarthritis," Osteoarthritis and Cartilage,2014.

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Fibromyalgia."

National Psoriasis Foundation: "Herbal and Natural Remedies."

Cleveland Clinic: "How to Cope with High-dose Chemo and Radiation Therapy Side Effects," "How You Can Prevent and Treat Painful Ingrown Toenails."

The Arthritis Foundation: "The Best Non-Drug Ways to Ease Knee Pain."

Mark Lebwohl, MD, chair of dermatology, Mount Sinai Hospital; chairman, National Psoriasis Foundation Medical Board.

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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