I was very interested to hear recently from a gentleman called Ollie who suffers longstanding CRPS. Ollie told me that one of the very few ways that he could achieve some degree of relief from his symptoms was to bathe in Epsom Salts. It seems that he is not alone; the use of Epsom Salts is a very old ‘therapy’ that has been recommended over the years for a host of medical conditions, including pain. In the case of Ollie, he says that Epsom Salts baths reduces inflammation and relieves pain. They are also one of the few ways that he can calm a flare. He estimates that he adds around 1½ lbs of Epsom Salts to his bath “and sometimes a bit more” – don’t worry, Epsom Salts can be bought in bulk!
If you suffer CRPS, you will be all too familiar with the hurdles of taking a bath. In addition to the need to protect a limb from physical contact with the bath itself, there is the crucial issue of water temperature, as well as the subsequent problem of drying the limb. So, if some people are regularly putting themselves through all of this in the name of therapy, the potential benefit has got to be worthwhile.
Despite the plurality, Epsom Salts is a single type of salt called magnesium sulphate.
In an earlier article we considered whether magnesium could benefit people suffering CRPS. The most plausible theory advanced so far is that magnesium acts as a calcium channel blocker. In one study using intravenous magnesium, it was hypothesised that “by blocking the NMDA receptor calcium channel, and preventing the influx of calcium and the initiation of an intracellular cascade, magnesium may impede peripheral and/or central sensitization resulting in a reduction of pain.” In this way, magnesium acts in a very similar way to intravenous Ketamine.
However, a subsequent study found that in CRPS patients, magnesium “provides insufficient benefit over placebo.”
So, from a scientific perspective, the jury remains out as to magnesium’s efficacy as a treatment for CRPS. But that’s not the only unanswered question.
Thanks to the research of Dr Rosemary Waring of Birmingham University, there is at least now scientific evidence that the body can absorb magnesium from an Epsom Salts bath. However, scientists remain uncertain as to how this actually occurs.
But does scientific evidence, or the lack of it, really matter?
Absolutely not. If you suffer CRPS then you just want relief, any relief at all, from the pain. If, as it clearly does for some, bathing in Epsom Salts relieves your pain, fantastic. It will soon become an established part of your therapy regime and, frankly, you’ll be content to leave the questions to the scientists. If it doesn’t work, there’s nothing lost other than the cost of the Epsom Salts.
Ollie is very keen for those who haven’t tried Epsom Salts to give them a go. I’m struggling to think of a reason not to.