As we reported in part 1 of this two-part series about the therapeutic effects of hot baths and saunas, we said that – most likely – you’ve heard the expression ‘taking the waters’. It refers to a centuries old practice that many people – especially those getting on in years – resorted to as a way to cure ailments and cope with pain.
Our interest in this issue was precipitated by a report published on CNN's Staying Well by Amy Chillag, dealing with the positive impact frequenting a thermal hot spring can have on the management of pain.
Obviously, not everyone has access to a thermal hot spring but we pointed out that by adding liberal quantities of Epsom salt to your bath, you can go a long way to replicating a thermal hot spring in your own home. Epsom salt is not a cure-all. But there is evidence to suggest it can help alleviate certain kinds of pain.
According to the Epsom Salt Council, these are some of the benefits an Epsom salt bath can deliver:
- Improved heart and circulatory health, reducing irregular heartbeats, preventing hardening of the arteries, reducing blood clots and lowering blood pressure.
- Flushes toxins and heavy metals from the cells, easing muscle pain and helping the body to eliminate harmful substances.
- Improved nerve function by electrolyte regulation. Also, calcium is the main conductor for electrical current in the body, and magnesium is necessary to maintain proper calcium levels in the blood.
- Relieved stress. Excess adrenaline and stress are believed to drain magnesium, a natural stress reliever, from the body. Magnesium is necessary for the body to bind adequate amounts of serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical within the brain that creates a feeling of well-being and relaxation.
- Reduces inflammation – relieves pain and muscle cramps.
- Improved oxygen use.
- Improved absorption of nutrients.
- Improved formation of joint proteins, brain tissue and mucin proteins.
- Prevention or easing of migraine headaches.
And That’s Not All…
In her article, Ms. Chillag went on to discuss some additional benefits associated with hot baths and saunas. Specifically, she quoted Dr. David Burke, head of Emory University's Center for Rehabilitative Medicine, who observed:
When you step into a hot bath and your core temperature goes up, a number of things happen that help with pain.
Ms. Chillag made the following additional points:
- According to a 2016 study in the Journal of Physiology, eight weeks of repeated hot water immersion lowered blood pressure and caused arteries to become more flexible in healthy young adults.
- According to a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension, people who visited a sauna two or three times a week were 24% less likely to have hypertension compared with those who visited once a week or less. Those who visited four to seven times a week had a 46% reduction.
- And even more profound, there was an association found between saunas and dementia — A 2016 study from Finland found that frequent heat exposure from saunas throughout the week was associated with lower risk of dementia. That study followed more than 2,300 healthy men who used the sauna each week for six years.
Obviously, soaking in Epsom salt enhanced hot baths or spending time in the local sauna is not for everyone at all times. If you’ve recently suffered an injury, the first 48 hours should initially involve ice application. This is recommended to start the healing process and aids in decreasing inflammation. Once inflammation has been reduced and your doctor gives you the OK, you can begin to follow the Epsom salt bath and sauna routine.
But ‘taking the waters’ worked for the ancient Romans. The famous spa at Montecatimi Terme in Tuscany has been working wonders on people in pain for thousands of years. So, fill up that bathtub, throw in half a pound of Epsom salt, light an aromatic candle, and turn the lights down low. It might just do the trick.
One Final Word of Advice
Be sure you know your body, and also consult with your doctor first. Blood pressure medicine might affect how your vascular system responds to heat and cold. And be sure to drink plenty of water before and after to counter any dehydrating effects.