Is Epsom Salt Good For Muscle Recovery?

A quick look on the internet will suggest many wonderful benefits of taking a bath in Epsom salt, whereas other credible sources quickly admit that there’s no actual scientific evidence to back up these claims.

Is Epsom salt good for muscle recovery?

Epsom salt has been used for many centuries to help with muscle recovery and to help alleviate a host of other ailments. Scientifically speaking, there’s no evidence to suggest that Epsom salt works in the way many people believe when bathing in it, yet thousands swear by it. There’s no harm in trying one to see if it works for you.

On one side, you have a multitude of people who believe that Epsom salt can be used in a bath to relieve muscle pain and swelling.

On the other side, you have the medical professionals stating that there’s no real scientific evidence to suggest that Epsom salt in a bath soak does anything at all, as the mixture of water, magnesium, and sulfates aren’t able to enter your body.

What gives?

Is Epsom Salt Good For Muscle Recovery?

Is epsom salt good for muscle recovery and sore muscles?

There’s a lot of mixed views on this subject.

Epsom salt disintegrates into sulfate and magnesium in water, and according to the popular notion, the salts enter your body through your skin when you soak in a bath with it, helping to reduce muscle pain, swelling, and minor aches by drawing toxins out of your body.

Although the benefits of soaking in an Epsom salt bath haven’t been proven, simply soaking in warm water can ease stiff joints and relax muscles.

The effect of Epsom salt, imagined or real (yet to be scientifically studied) can be a classic example of the ‘Placebo Effect.’

And yet many athletes will swear by it.

What Do Studies Show About Epsom Salt’s Effectiveness?

Epsom salt has been used as a bath soak for many generations.

Ask any grandma for advice on relieving aches and muscle pain, and the answer will naturally include the words ‘Epsom salt’ and ‘bath’.

We will take grandma’s word for it, but are there any medical studies backing her claims?

National Library Of Medicine On Transdermal Magnesium

On July 28, 2017, the National Library of Medicine published an online article, “Myth or Reality – Transdermal Magnesium?” where they look into the validity of claims that Epsom salt baths work as well as taking magnesium orally. 

In the review that followed, they assessed the available research on transdermal magnesium application and evidence-based data and found that transdermal magnesium intake is not supported by science.

The report stated that the clinical trials performed when testing how effective transdermal magnesium were inconclusive, and most studies were not up to standard as a clinical trial.

Does Epsom Salt Work For Muscle Recovery?

The study also found that the skin, the body’s largest organ, primarily provides a protective barrier between the body and its external environment.

The skin barrier protects us against the permeation of UV radiation, allergens, chemicals, and microorganisms, in addition to the loss of body nutrients and moisture.

In a nutshell, the capacity for healthy skin to absorb substances from the outside is extremely limited. Your stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the epidermis and consists of 15 to 20 layers of corneocytes (dead cells), and its function is to form a water-repellent barrier to protect underlying tissue from dehydration, infection, chemicals, and mechanical stress.

Without becoming too technical, your stratum corneum can only be penetrated by lipophilic substances. Epsom salts poured into a bath will form a magnesium chloride solution presented in an ionized form, and it’s unable to pass through a lipophilic layer (biological membranes.)

Lastly, the study found that cellular magnesium uptake could only be carried out by specific magnesium transporters and not by diffusion.

Dead cells found on the upper layer of your skin won’t have any functional magnesium transporters, making magnesium absorption through the skin highly impossible and subsequently unable to reach the affected muscle areas to help with recovery.

Studies on the subject should give us more definitive answers in the future. Magnesium absorption may be possible in the areas where you find sweat glands and hair follicles. Hair follicles and sweat glands constitute only 0.1 to 1% of the skin surface, and should the magnesium be absorbed in these areas, the small amounts’ clinical relevance should be studied.

In conclusion, the National Library of Medicine report highlights the relationship between the overwhelming evidence found online about how effective Epsom salt baths are for certain uses versus the actual scientific data.

Scientifically the benefits of a soak in Epsom salt bath have yet to be proven, yet many people swear by this popular folk remedy.

Signs And Symptoms Of Magnesium Deficiency

The clinical data on the positive effects of magnesium on the human body is well known, and doctors either use it intravenously or administer it orally to patients to help with many medical conditions and treat people with low magnesium levels. 

The following signs can indicate low magnesium levels:

  • Leg cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Backaches
  • Neck pain
  • Facial muscle cramps
  • Calve cramps
  • Carpopedal spasm
  • Urinary spasms

Runners can identify with a few of the above symptoms. That’s why taking in a source of salt and magnesium before or while running is crucial when protecting your muscles

What Do People Treat With Epsom Salt?

According to WebMD, people use Epsom salts in their bath as a treatment for the following:

  • Sore muscles after working out
  • Sprains and bruises
  • Pain and swelling from arthritis
  • Pain and redness from sunburn
  • Fatigued and enlarged feet
  • Insomnia
  • Toenail fungus
  • Psoriasis 
  • Fibromyalgia (A condition that causes sore spots, painful muscles, ligaments, and tendons)

What Do Doctors Treat With Epsom Salt?

The ingredients found in Epsom salt can be used intravenously by doctors to combat preterm birth as well as to treat seizures resulting from the following diseases:

  • Muscle spasm caused by magnesium shortage
  • Preeclampsia
  • Eclampsia

Doctors can administer it intravenously to combat:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Migraines
  • Swelling in the brain
  • Barium poisoning

Are Epsom Salt Baths Dangerous?

Many people claim that taking an Epsom salt bath helps them feel better for various illnesses, despite the lack of compelling scientific data to back this claim.

Soaking in Epsom salt is not considered dangerous at all, but stay away from such a soak if you have any unbroken skin on your body.

If you experience irritation, itchy skin, or any allergic reaction that includes hives or rash, then abstaining from an Epsom salt bath is recommended.

How To Take An Epsom Salt Bath

The best advice is to add the Epsom salt to the water as it’s flowing in the area where the warm water tap hits the bath. Add the salt when the water is still comfortable to the touch to help aid with their dissolution.

A doctor can advise on the suggested amount for an average-sized bath, and you can also refer to the instructions of use on the manufacturers’ packet when you want to use it in a hot tub or whirlpool. The recommended amount for a normal-sized bath is typically 1 to 2 cups.

Ensure that the water is not overly hot, as too hot water may make the swelling worse. Soak for a minimum of 15 minutes in warm water, and let the Epsom salt (or the warm water?) relieve your body’s aches and pains.

Epsom salt for sore muscles

Additional Ways That People Use Epsom Salt

Many proponents of Epsom salt think the body may absorb enough magnesium through the skin to reduce edema (swelling) and ease aches and pain. It’s also believed that Epsom salts are useful for soothing the skin and minimizing itch and irritation.

Some people get creative when using Epsom salt, and here are a few alternative ways that you can make use of it:

Epsom Salt Detox

Some people believe that the time spent in the Epsom salt soak is what makes the difference in helping to alleviate certain ailments:

  • Softer Skin: A 20-minute detox soak can soften the skin, strengthen the skin barrier, and reduce inflammation.
  • Muscle Recovery: A 12-minute detox soak is suggested to reduce muscle aches, tension, and pain.
  • Anti-Stress: A relaxing hour-long bath can help relieve stress, depression, and anxiety caused by magnesium deficiency. It’s similar in many ways to the revitalising health benefits of a sauna.
  • Ingrown Toenails: A 12-minute soak can relieve pain and inflammation in the affected area.
  • Laxative: A 20-minute soak or oral digestion is advised. If taken orally, adults should take in between 10 to 30 grams, children over 6 between 5 to 10 grams, and children 6 and under should be advised by a doctor. A bowel movement should start to happen within 30 minutes to 6 hours.
  • Aromatherapy Benefits: Add some of your favorite essential oils like peppermint, lavender, or tree tea. 

Epsom Salt Foot Soak

According to its advocates, Epsom salt can be dissolved in warm water to treat infections, reduce gout pain, and promote healing and other benefits. Here’s how to make an effective foot soak using Epsom salt:

  • Fill the bathtub until it’s deep enough to cover your feet, using warm water. 
  • Pour ½ cup of Epsom salt into the water.
  • Soak your feet twice weekly, between 30 to 60 minutes per session.
  • Add a few drops of diluted essential oils to the mix.
  • Apply moisturizer to your feet afterward, as the foot soak may dry out your skin.

Our Verdict on Epsom Salt For Muscle Recovery

Take an Epsom salt bath and decide for yourself if it works. Hundreds of thousands of people believe it does help muscles recover, relieve pain, and assist with inflammation issues.

And, as non-scientists, who are we to say they’re wrong?

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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