As many as 80 percent of adults in the United States have lower back pain, making back pain the second most common reason people visit their doctors, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. In fact, the center estimates that around 13 million people see their doctors each year because of chronic back pain. If you have persistent pain in your back, visiting your doctor can help determine the cause and best treatments, which may include Epsom salt soaks.
Epsom salt is a compound composed of magnesium and sulfate, two types of mineral that can be absorbed through the skin as well as ingested. In appearance, Epsom salt looks a lot like ordinary table salt, though its chemical composition is quite different. You can find Epsom salt in drug stores and home improvement stores.
According to the Jefferson Lab website, part of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Epsom salt was first recognized for its ability to heal mild cuts and scrapes. Epsom salt was discovered in 1618 by a farmer in Epsom, England, whose cows avoided drinking from a pond that contained the salt. Over time, people realized that soaking in Epsom salt helped ease muscle and back pain.
Most people don't get enough magnesium, which can affect their nerve, muscle and enzyme function, ultimately contributing to pain and inflammation that can affect your back, according to the Epsom Salt Council. Soaking in Epsom salt is one of the best ways to get its benefits, since your body doesn't process ingested magnesium as efficiently as it does absorbed magnesium.
According to the Epsom Salt Council, soaking in Epsom salt can benefit back pain in several ways. Epsom salt reduces inflammation that can cause injury- and condition-related back pain. Epsom salt can also help relieve stress and tension that exacerbate back pain. Soaking in Epsom salt can promote nervous system health, which may reduce some kinds of back pain.
Adding a few drops of essential oil to your Epsom salt can make your soak a more relaxing experience. The University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing and the Life Science Foundation suggest combining 2 parts Epsom salt with 3 parts sea salt and 1 part baking soda, adding 6 drops of lavender essential oil to every 2 tablespoons of this mixture. You can also add a few drops of lavender essential oil to plain Epsom salt in the same proportion.
Holly Roberts is an award-winning health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in health, lifestyle and fitness magazines. Roberts has also worked as an editor for health association publications and medical journals. She has been a professional writer for more than 10 years and holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in literature.