Epsom Salt Bath

Do Epsom Salt Baths Work?

Oh, the millions of remedies out there promising faster healing, relief from aches and pains, faster recovery, “detoxification,” and the list goes on.  The physical therapists at SSOR are asked on a regular basis – “Is there any benefit of X to help with X?”  One of the ones that we get asked about, or hear patients using, is Epsom salt baths.   Epsom salt baths are used for anything from ankle sprains to helping with the common cold.  Is there anything to it though?

What is Epsom salt?

Epsom salt is the common name for magnesium sulfate.  Originally, it came from Epsom, England, reportedly from bitter water that was boiled down.  There seemed to be a trend towards faster healing with this water, and alas, Epsom salt water baths were born.

What’s are Epsom salt baths used for?

The FDA has actually improved its internal use as a laxative.  Other than that, the research on Epsom salt baths is scant at best.  There are no studies on Epsom salt baths for athletic injuries, recovery, or treatment of musculoskeletal problems.

How are Epsom salt baths supposed to work?

Again, all of these are proposed theories, but there has been zero scientific validation of them.  One theory is that the salts are absorbed through the skin and then they draw toxins out of the body.  While there can certainly be some fluid gradient changes via osmosis (water will diffuse across the skin to the area of higher concentrated solution) in a case of say, an acute ankle injury that causes swelling in the ankle, Epsom salt isn’t necessary for that.  Any salt would work!  So, this is a really weak argument.  Plus, the skin is a pretty good barrier for something like that to occur.  Other proposed theories, via the above mechanism, helps with inflammation and sedation of the nervous system.
The caveat to this though is that when taken orally – it can be a powerful laxative but you can get some vicious side-effect with it.  Therefore, consult your doctor before doing that.

The Bottom Line

There is absolutely zero evidence that Epsom salt baths do anything for musculoskeletal injuries or recovery.  That said, if you think they’re helpful or that they work, go right ahead!  There is certainly the “power of placebo” in matters like these.  We have no problem with it if you want to give them a try!
The physical therapists at SSOR, now with two locations to serve you in Overland Park and Prairie Village, are committed to helping you get great outcomes and be informed in the process.  It would be a privilege to serve you, give us a call!