Last week we talked about how consuming too much salt can exacerbate arthritic pain. But it’s not all bad news- salt can also help relieve pain. Researchers in the U.K. have recently discovered that taking salt baths helps relieve pain. The research shows that anything that contains salt- from your common table salt to saline solutions, will help reduce inflammation of the joints.
Even if you don’t live close to the ocean, you can still enjoy the health benefits of a salt water bath. Not only will the salt and water relieve joint pain, the steam from the warm water will as well. It’s also nice to enjoy a relaxing bath once and while, for stress relief. Take some time, soak, and read a book, while your aches and pains drift away.
So, the next time you feel your pain flaring up, do as I do, try taking a long bath. Soaking in warm water is one of the oldest forms of alternative therapy, and there’s good reason why this practice has stood the test of time. Research has shown warm water therapy works wonders for all kinds of musculoskeletal conditions, including fibromyalgia, arthritis, back and joint pain.
“The research shows our ancestors got it right. It makes you feel better. It makes the joints looser. It reduces pain and it seems to have a somewhat prolonged effect that goes beyond the period of immersion,” says Bruce E. Becker, MD, director of the National Aquatics & Sports Medicine Institute at Washington State University in Spokane.
There are many reasons soaking in warm water works. It reduces the force of gravity that’s compressing the joint, offers 360-degree support for sore limbs, can decrease swelling and inflammation and increase circulation.
So, how long should you soak? Dr. Becker says patients he’s studied seem to reach a maximum benefit after about 20 minutes. And make sure you drink water before and afterward to stay well hydrated.
Here are some other simple steps to make the most of your next bath:
Go warm, not hot: Maintain a water temperature between 92 and 100 degrees. If you have cardiovascular problems, beware of water that’s too hot because it can put stress on the heart. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says anything over 104 degrees is considered dangerous for everyone.
Don’t just sit there: Warm water is great for relaxing, but it is also good for moving. Warm water stimulates blood flow to stiff muscles and frozen joints, making a warm tub or pool an ideal place to do some gentle stretching. To ease low back pain, trap a tennis ball between the small of your back and the bottom or back of the tub, then lean into it and roll it against knotted muscles. The flexibility lasts even after you get out, says Ann Vincent, MD, medical director of the Mayo Clinic’s Fibromyalgia Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Patients report that soaking in a warm bath and stretching after that seems to help.”
Add some magnesium salts: Data collected by the National Academy of Sciences show most Americans don’t get enough magnesium, a mineral that’s important for bone and heart health. One way to help remedy that: bathing in magnesium sulfate crystals, also known as Epsom salts. They’re relatively inexpensive, can be found at grocery and drug stores (or you can order them here) and can boost magnesium levels as much as 35 %, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. But don’t go overboard; the National Institutes of Health warns a small amount goes a long way and should only be used occasionally. People with diabetes should be aware, too, that high levels of magnesium can stimulate insulin release.
Try Dead Sea Minerals: The Dead Sea has the highest salt content of any body of water in the world–too high to sustain plant or animal life, hence its name, says the Steady Health website. As well as salt, the water is packed with minerals – such as bromine, potassium, magnesium and calcium – that are believed to be beneficial for the skin and a range of health conditions. One study showed that people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis experienced a significant improvement in their condition after taking a warm bath containing 1/2 to 4 cups dead sea salts every day for two weeks. The benefits lasted for up to a month.
Consider finding a warm water pool: Warm water can be so helpful in fighting the pain and stiffness of arthritis and fibromyalgia that experts recommend heated pools for exercise. Various studies of patients with both conditions found that when they participated in warm water exercise programs two or three times a week, their pain decreased as much as 40 percent and their physical function increased. The exercise programs also gave an emotional boost, helped people sleep better and were particularly effective for obese individuals.
A long, soothing bath is an easy and effective way to ease the pain. I should know, I average 2-3 a day!
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