Soaking The Pain Away
I am someone whose every day is touched by some degree of pain and fatigue. Unfortunately, conventional medicine is not much help. It always involves a pill with a bad side effect or two, like hair loss (no thank you). Or there is a medication that may work, but my insurance would rather not cover it. It’s always something.
It isn’t in my nature to give up. I always look for ways to feel better and enhance the quality of my life. Time and again the simple things give me the most relief.
Recently I decided to treat myself to a massage. Since my pain issues began, this is something I have to approach with caution. Sounds nuts, I know. But in my world, a totally harmless rubdown can be too much of a good thing. If the therapist applies just the wrong amount of pressure, an hour of bliss can later throw me into the flare from hell. And what is okay one day isn’t okay the next. It is all very confusing and frustrating.
On this particular day, my massage therapist Natalie was trying to navigate the minefield. What could she do that wouldn’t hurt me too much? She asked me about the pain I was experiencing that week. We decided to go with some gentle cranial sacral work to help alleviate the all over body pain that was making me miserable.
As I was on the table, her hands working their magic and me zoning out, her soft voice broke the silence.
“Have you ever tried Epsom Salt baths?”
We agreed the discussion would wait until the end of my session. I’m not one for conversation when I am sprawled on a massage table in a candlelit room, with nature sounds coming from a CD player. But she definitely got my attention. I had read somewhere long ago that pain, nerve pain in particular, can be helped by the use of Epsom Salts. She reminded me all over again.
So what is nerve pain exactly? The answer calls for a quick anatomy lesson (bear with me, you geniuses out there who already know this stuff). Our spinal cord is the liaison between our brain and the nerves that weave throughout our body. These nerves that leave our spinal cord and branch out to the rest of the body comprise our peripheral nervous system. This system is made up of sensory nerves (they receive sensory stimuli, telling us what feels good and what hurts) and motor nerves (which control muscle movement). When something happens, be it illness or injury that can damage these nerves, abnormal processing of messages happens. Pain is amplified and all hell breaks loose. And that’s when life can get pretty crummy.
After my hour of bliss, Natalie went on to tell me that Epsom Salt baths replenish much needed magnesium sulfate in the body. And mineral deficiencies, magnesium deficiencies in particular, are linked to chronic nerve pain conditions like fibromyalgia. Some patients have had a great deal of success in improving their symptoms, just by paying close attention to adequate mineral levels.
So what’s the big deal with magnesium?
It is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Concentrated in our bones and tissues, it is responsible for 300 different biochemical reactions, all of which a healthy body needs to function. It boosts immunity, helps control anxiety (this is all I need to know), and is crucial in the development and maintenance of healthy nerve tissues. When a deficiency occurs, weakness, fatigue, pain, numbness, and muscle contractions often result. This is beginning to sound like the story of my life.
If you go into my bathroom you will see I have a problem. Bath stuff is everywhere. Six different kinds of herbal infused bath salts, foaming bath oils, mud treatments; you name it, I have it. All designed to help my pain, make me feel pretty and bring my body to that elusive happy place I miss so much. But I have grown so tired of things not working as effectively as I expect them to. Don’t get me wrong. I love all my stuff. I am sure I look positively splendid sitting in a bubble bath with a Hungarian mud mask on my face. It just isn’t all that when it comes to making me more comfortable.
After a lot of money and frustration, I decided to give regular Epsom Salts a try. Plain. Boring. Cheap. No fancy packaging. No exotic smell. And not too sexy. Who knew this possible remedy would not be found in the posh confines of a boutique or department store, but instead right next to the pharmacy counter in a no frills Costco warehouse?
I was able to find twelve pounds of Epsom Salts (three 4 pound packages) at Costco for under $7. This is a steal compared to the fancy pants bath salts I have tried. Granted, the more expensive stuff is infused with oils and herbs, and the salt is derived from some far away place. But they are meant for a completely different experience. I will always have these more appealing versions on hand when I want some luxury.
The process could not be any simpler. I dumped two cups of Epsom Salts under warm running water and filled the tub to my desired level. I didn’t add anything else to the water this first time. Normally I would be inclined to add a few drops of essential oil or a few tablespoons of bath oil to moisturize my skin. But this first time I didn’t want anything interfering with the salts and the job they had to do. In actuality, it doesn’t matter. In my second bath I added a bit of moisturizing jojoba oil and lavender essential oil for some extra pampering. In the end it’s all the same.
I noticed things happening right away. I began to sweat. A lot. And the water was not hot, just pleasantly warm. This detox effect is remarkable, and I recommend having a bottle of water handy, or better yet some delicious herbal tea if you choose. I was surprised at how I was feeling. My pain lifted and I felt great. Sometimes I can be in a hurry to get out of the bath, especially if I have things to do. Not this time. I didn’t care. The water wasn’t fragranced or moisturizing, but something about it just felt really good. I didn’t want to get out.
Yes, something as simple as a bath can replenish much needed minerals. Scientific evidence shows the salt’s content is in fact absorbed through the skin. Magnesium levels in blood and urine go up exponentially in people who soak for the recommended time. Studies show it requires twenty minutes to fully reap the benefits. The detoxing and relaxing effect can also make you feel a bit sleepy, a nice perk if you have difficulty falling asleep at night. I sometimes do. My pain can often keep me awake. But after my salt bath I slept like a baby.
Of course this isn’t my cure, but it makes me feel good and reduces my pain for hours. All of us chronic pain people know how precious even five minutes of reduced pain can be. Hours free of pain is heaven!
If Epsom Salts just bore you to death (believe me, I understand) and it’s more pizazz that you crave, seek out bath products that contain Himalayan pink salt, which contains 84 different minerals, magnesium being one of them. Himalayan pink salt is simply an exotic sounding name for plain old rock salt. It comes from the second largest salt mine in the world, located in Pakistan. It is hand mined, hand washed and sun dried, and the purest salt available on earth. Dead Sea salts also contain many minerals beneficial to health, and are commonly found in many products. A good soak in a Himalayan pink salt or Dead Sea salt bath can help strengthen your immune system and detox your body.
If you don’t mind spending significantly more for salts of the Himalayan or Dead Sea variety, try Essential Oils Bath Salts. 22 ounces can be yours for $11.99 (www.eoproducts.com). They have formulas for serenity, sleep, balance, wellness, and warmth. Or try Masada Dead Sea Mineral Spa Salts, 2 lbs. for $20. I do like their Joint & Muscle and Detox MD formulas (www.masada-spa.com). But for me, as simple as they are, Epsom Salts get the job done well and for a lot less.
Maybe you find yourself with persistent achiness that you can’t seem to shake, or you have pushed yourself too hard during a tough workout. Get back to being your awesome self and give an Epsom Salt bath a try. Make it part of your evening ritual and it will surely give you a good nights’ sleep, too.