Epsom salt is one of my medicine cabinet staples and I’m increasingly prescribing it to help patients with everything from migraines to TMJ to bone spurs to insomnia. There’s not a single reason I can think of where I would tell a patient to refrain from an Epsom soak, including pregnancy since it’s been shown to help with pre-eclampsia.
Composed of magnesium, sulfur and oxygen, Epsom salt doesn’t contain any sodium. It was named after the town of Epsom off the Dover coast of England where waters from the town’s mineral springs were boiled down to make the first Epsom salts.
What makes Epsom magic is the magnesium. A lack of magnesium in the body can contribute to high blood pressure, hyperactivity, heart problems, and other health issues. Magnesium plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, normal heart rhythm and regulation of the activity of more than 325 known enzymes.
What’s really sold me on magnesium is its anti-inflammatory properties. Most of the conditions that come with true magnesium deficiency or symptoms of other pathologies that are relieved by magnesium supplementation almost all have an inflammatory component to them. The jury is still out on whether the body is burning through magnesium by trying to manage the inflammation, or whether the lack of magnesium is causing inflammation.
Sulfur ain’t half bad either. It’s essential for many biological processes, including nerve conduction and formation of proteins in joints and brain tissue. Sulfur makes cell membranes more pliable, allowing for improved oxygen transport INTO cells and improved waste transport OUT of them. It also helps cells regenerate so we can heal from the inside out.
TOP 5 REASONS TO SOAK YOUR FEET
Epsom foot soaks are ridiculously easy, cheap, targeted, and perfect for apartment dwellers that may not have a bathtub. I’ve asked upwards of 80% of my patients to start soaking their feet in Epsom salt baths – and every single one have reported back that they LOVE it.
You would need to pour a couple pounds of Epsom salt in a large bathtub to achieve the same concentration of magnesium and sulfur that happens in the small container you use to soak your feet. I'm a HUGE fan of regular Epsom baths, but if you're looking for relief from any of the conditions below - the foot soak is far superior.
- To help with chronically cold hands and feet. The hot water alone opens up the vasculature to bring heat to the tissues and assist with systemic circulation. On top of that effect, magnesium opens the vessels directly by a chemical action as well as indirectly by a sympathetic blockade and inhibition of catecholamine release – which is a fancy way of saying magnesium dilates the blood vessels to increase blood flow.
- Migraine, tension headaches and TMJ. The Asian medicine classics teach that a sage acupuncturist will use the top to treat the bottom. Likewise, many of the points we use on the foot actually treat the head; by soaking the large Achilles tendon in the foot, you’re also treating all the tendons used to support the 10 pounds perched on your neck. By opening the vasculature of the foot and assisting proper blood circulation, the Epsom soak is also helping open of the vessels in your head to move blood, soften tissue and relieve pain.
- Bone spurs or tight tendons in the feet. The pain that comes with bone spurs is a tendon issue more than a bone issue. The body sometimes builds extra bone at places of high impact in order to protect itself, but the pain comes when the tendons that need to move over that bone are pulled too tightly to accommodate it. By soaking your feet in hot Epsom salt solution, you’re warming and relaxing your tendons so they have a bit more give.
- Insomnia due to a racing mind. Asian medicine recognizes several different types of insomnia, the main breakdown being unable to fall asleep versus unable to stay asleep. If you can’t fall asleep due to racing thoughts, sometimes it’s simply a matter of releasing the heat in your head that’s turning your thought turbines. By soaking your feet, you’re increasing systemic circulation and forcing the heat in your head to circulate into other parts of your body as well.
- Assist in detox. There’s plenty of debate on this one, but I think it throws people off because it’s assumed that the solution is pulling toxins out of the feet into the water. What’s really happening is your body is absorbing sulfur from the Epsom solution, and that sulfur pumps your cells full of oxygen while pushing out cellular waste. Sulfur also bonds with substances such as aluminum, barium, and other heavy metals. Magnesium is required for cell detox because it provides cells with the energy to pump waste material out. And, finally, the warm water increases circulation to help all this waste material get into the organs responsible for excreting it out of the body. The Epsom water solution isn’t taking the toxins out; rather, it’s providing the necessary materials for your body to do that for itself.
You should already have everything you need and almost any pharmacy will have Epsom salt somewhere on a bottom shelf. If soaking your toes in the family pasta pot is more than your significant other or family can handle, think about adding a "foot soaking tub" to your next Amazon order.
- A container large enough to soak both feet and your lower legs to just below your calf muscles
- 1 cup of Epsom salt
- Hot water
- Foot lotion or body oil
- The quickest way to dissolve the Epsom salt is on the stove.
- Mix 2 cups of water with 1 cup of Epsom stir the liquid until the crystals dissolve.
- Add the solution to your soaking container.
- Slowly add cool, lukewarm, or hot water until the temperature is at the upper level of heat you can handle without scalding yourself.
- Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the water to help you relax.
- Metal or ceramic pots work best since they retain heat better than plastic. If you're feeling fancy you can find foot soaking tubs online that are plastic but designed to keep the water warm.
- Put a towel on the floor under the pot the first time you use it since a little trial & error is involved in figuring out the correct proportions of water to pot to feet without overflowing the container.
- The water needs to be as hot as you can handle since it will gradually cool while soaking.
- Plan on keeping your feet in the water for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Make sure there’s enough liquid to cover your feet up to the bottom of your calf muscle. You want to ensure that you’re fully soaking the Achilles tendon and support structures in your lower leg.
- Be sure NOT to rinse or wash your feet after the soak; by allowing the solution to dry on the skin, your body can continue to absorb the magnesium and sulfate.
- Once you’re done soaking, rub some lotion on your feet, and put on socks to help retain some of the warmth. You may find that the Epsom soak dries your skin out a bit, but you can combat that by immediately applying the lotion and by wearing socks to keep the moisture in.