In nature, there are some biological processes that are almost unstoppable. Once the process is started it creates a cascade of reactions and, like a freight train barreling down the track, stopping it takes an immense amount of effort.
One of the most classic of these, and perhaps the strongest in human biology, is labor. Once the signals arrive for labor to happen, they build on each other and become relentless. When the contractions start, those strong uterine contractions get stronger and stronger and build and come closer together. There are very few things that can stop contractions. But there are some very powerful medicines that can. One of these is called magnesium sulfate.
When it’s given it can calm even those powerful uterine contractions — slowing and even stopping them. (It is no longer one of the first-choice medicines, though, to delay pre-term labor). It is also powerful at calming the brain and preventing seizures in women with preeclampsia, where it remains the first-choice medicine. It’s on the WHO List of Essential Medicines.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Epsom salts are the same thing – magnesium sulfate. When you take an Epsom Salt bath, your body absorbs the magnesium and sulfate and this can cause real muscle relaxation.
Named after the town of Epsom, in Surrey England, it’s been used for hundreds of years. Despite generations who have reported relief, the absorption of magnesium through the skin has been controversial. It turns out that most of the magnesium is absorbed through the hair follicles.
When to Take an Epsom Salts Bath
Epsom Salt baths can be a great idea to deal with:
- Leg cramps — Leg cramps are often worse when magnesium levels are a bit low.
- Menstrual cramping – A warm bath by itself can help relax menstrual cramps. The addition of Epsom salts further relax muscle cramps and can provide additional relief.
- Post-workout soreness – After a hard workout, and before bed, is a great time to take advantage of an Epsom Salt bath to reduce soreness the next day.
- Chronic muscle pain – A recent randomized, controlled study found more relief when an Epsom salt, calcium bath was added to the treatment regimen.
- A racing mind – Slipping in to a warm Epsom salts bath can be a signal to your brain that it’s time to let go and fully relax. This letting-go can be a significant sleep aid, as well.
In addition, you can get extra magnesium from soaking in an Epsom salts bath. Whole grains, legumes and dark-green leafy vegetables are good dietary sources of magnesium – but not all kids get enough that way.
Epsom Salts and Children
Epsom salts are gentle enough to be used for children, though I recommend waiting until they are six years old, unless you talk with your doctor. Children younger than six may be fine with Epsom salt baths, but their skin is especially permeable, and they may absorb more magnesium than they need. They may need a smaller dose.
Whether using Epsom salts in the bath or not, children should never be left unsupervised to take a bath. When ingested magnesium sulfate is a laxative so children shouldn’t drink the bathwater, but then, they should never drink bathwater (yuck!).
Parents of children with medical conditions should check with their doctors before using Epsom salts baths for their children.
A warm bath at the end of a hectic day may seem like an indulgence, but Epsom Salt baths are not just an indulgence, sweet idea, or a quaint old ritual. They are a natural and yet very powerful choice for relaxing your muscles and your mind.
Added Note: A paste made from Epsom Salt is often used as a “drawing paste” to help remove splinters. Simply moisten some with a bit of water, apply it generously over where the splinter is, leave it overnight, and in the morning the splinter may be at the surface and easy to pull out.
Permeation of topically applied magnesium ions through human skin is facilitated by hair follicles. Magnesium Research. June 2016.
Green exercise and mg-ca-SO4 thermal balneotherapy for treatment of non-specific chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. May 2019.
Comprehensive nutritional and dietary intervention for autism spectrum disorder – a randomized, controlled 12-month trial. Nutrients. March 2018.