What are Epsom salts?
Fun fact: Epsom salts are named after a saline spring located in Surrey, England. Epsom salt differs from regular salt because it is a naturally occurring compound of magnesium and sulphate. Throughout history, Epsom salt has been used for medicinal purposes both internally and externally. When taken orally, Epsom salt is an efficient laxative. When poured in a bath, it can help to draw out splinters and has been touted as relieving athlete’s foot, muscle soreness and stress. Epsom salts also have a history of agricultural use as a fertilizer for magnesium deficient crops and potted plants.
Why do Epsom salts matter to athletes?
If you’ve ever had a massage, the therapist may have suggested taking an Epsom salt bath later to relieve possible soreness. Many athletic therapy sites will recommend Epsom salt baths after hard efforts for athletes.
Epsom salts, much like ice baths, seem to be a staple of athlete’s recovery plans, without much question as to why they’re effective. It is just accepted that since this is something people have always done, it must work.
There are lots of buzzwords that surround Epsom salt baths, like their “detoxifying properties.” Any bathing in water warm enough to make you sweat can help release excess salt and impurities. And a warm bath is as “detoxifying” as going for a jog (which will also make you sweat). Epsom salt doesn’t have anything to do with the sweating process.
Claims have also been made that Epsom salt baths can help reduce magnesium deficiency, as magnesium is absorbed through the skin. Consequential studies have found that magnesium does not penetrate the skin at regular bathing temperature. If you are low in magnesium, you’d be much better off consuming magnesium rich foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds in order to raise levels. No study has yet proved any connection between muscular soreness alleviation and Epsom salts, but little research has been devoted towards the subject at all.
What’s the bottom line about Epsom salt baths for athletes?
When it comes to recovery, the best plan for every athlete is to stick with what works for you, regardless of whether if may be a placebo effect or not. If you feel better after an ice bath or an Epsom salt bath, continue to incorporate that into your recovery plan. The placebo effect is not something that should be underestimated.
In preparation for writing this piece, I decided to incorporate Epsom salt into my own weekly routine. I made an effort to take the time to soak twice a week for two weeks straight and I must admit, I felt better, like I had more energy and my legs felt fresher on runs or at the gym. Buut it’s impossible to know whether this is the result of the Epsom salts, or of a girl not used to even taking baths at all carving out time to actually relax for 40 minutes at a time, twice a week.