The sheer activity of Epsom salt baths


Taking a day to rest has been just the thing.Now here’s what I mean when I say, “I took an Epsom bath…” And I’m sorry to say that getting images loaded will have to wait for another day, so use your imaginations for now ๐Ÿ™‚

Nearly all motels have a bathtub. I consider this essential. They’re small, but adequate. With a swipe of cleanser and a quick rinse, I’ve found all of them usable so far.

I should add that baths are not essential to Epsom treatment for CRPS. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve used, with a degree ofย success which not only included the targeted limb but also improved CRPSย for me generally:

  • I’ve immersed my arms in an Epsom solution in a sink or basin. This is great when I’m not up to a bath, but I’m too chilly to sit around with wet limbs. I lean into the basin, with sleeves all the way up, and slosh and slosh and just soak it up. I’ve found that not only does it help my arms, but the relief goes up through my shoulders, down my back, and even my feet feel better after doing this with my arms for 15 minutes or so, 20 minutes if I can stand thereย that long.
  • When the dysautonomia is being REALLY bratty, I sit with a basin of Epsom solution and a tea towel nearby, and simply wipe the bothersome limb, stroking from healthy area to painful/spasming/misbehaving area, with the same mental chants I describe below…

Both of these strategies work extremely well. Many of us are accustomed to sink baths, and it’s no harder than that — easier, because rinsing is optional.

Temperature โ€“ the first consideration

People with chronic CRPS have two substantial issues that affect bath temperature: wonky signals to the circulatory system, and screwy temperature regulation.

Hot baths are a thing of the past. They aren’t good to me any more.

I like a bath that’s just a few degrees warmer than the temperature that feels like nothing on your skin. That seems to provide the best results.

I find chlorine to be counterproductive, so I let it go first. I run the tub a little hot, with the fan on, and leave the room for 5-10 minutes until most of the chlorine dissipates. (This really works.) Then I adjust the temperature.

MgSO4, my ally

I’ve gone up to using about 2 pounds of Epsom salt for one bath. That’s about a third of the 6 pound bag, costing between $3.50 and $6.50, depending on where you buy them. I used to use a cup or two, but I really get better results with a stronger solution.

The process

Remember, this is about re-regulating and re-normalizing, so leaping into the bath and getting busy is the wrong thing to do!

Going one step at a time and persuading my body to stabilize at each point is how the process works.

So I take a couple minutes to just sink into it, let the mottling pattern on my lower body and arms fade, and get some circulation going to my overworked skin.

I brush over all my limbs with my hands, introducing them to the idea of tactile input, and how that should go. This is an important first step, because the touch of a hand wet with Epsom solution is softer than silk, and it’s important to start with the most positive possible sensations. This helps de-alarm your central nervous system as well as re-acquaint your skin with the world. This is supposed to start, and end, as a definitely positive experience. In between, there might be some work.

When working on such deep and challenging health issues, it’s important to set yourself up for success whenever possible!

Back to our bath.

Nearly all motels have washcloths with a nice scrubby texture. The soft kind that you get in the bath and body store feels to me like turgid gelatin, soaking up a lot of soap and doing very little in the way of exfoliation โ€“ which is what I used to use washcloths for.

Now, it’s all about renormalization โ€“ or, to use the standard allopathic medical term, desensitization.

Leave it to medicine to make returning to normal sound like something bad!

I start with the soles of my feet. If yours are too sensitive to touch, start where you can touch. Remember, set your body up for success. This second pass distinguishes between contact on the surface and underneath, which are two different sensory realms. The first thing I do is go underneath, to the tissues below the surface of my feet, in a gentle and encouraging way.

I hold the washcloth in my open hand, using a big, squishing gesture.

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With that big gesture, and a certain amount of gentle elbow grease, I reassure the soles of my feet that they’re doing fine. Once they start sending appropriate signals of touch and motion, I work around the foot and up my ankles.

Using the washcloth in one hand, and nothing in the other, I alternate strokes, soothing the frazzled burning sensation left by the terrycloth with the silkiness of Epsom water in my palm. The frazzled sensation eases off gradually.

I don’t just notice what the sensations are from my skin, I tell that part of me what the sensations ought to be:
It’s just terrycloth. There’s no burning here. It’s just terrycloth. It should feel pleasantly scrubby, nothing more.

Every now and then, I move the washcloth to a part of my body that still thinks terrycloth is just terrycloth, and give myself a brief demonstration. That seems to help.

Once the signals start calming down a bit, I can go deeper. My calves take a little extra care. I start on the left, and it feels like a hunk of plastic. I tell it to calm down โ€“ in firm, maternal, authoritative tones โ€“ and go squish my right calf instead. When my right calf and shin are sending nice, normal signals of terrycloth texture in motion, I go back to my left calf, reassuring it that you can be normal, you know perfectly well what that feels like, there you go, you can do it.

Firm, yet loving, maternal tones are hard to resist. It’s a great re-progamming tool for bringing your brain closer to normal.

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Eventually, my left calf loses that awful dense feeling and starts to feel like a leg again.

The next step is to address the surface sensations on up the rest of me.

I coach my skin not to send sparkling messages of hot and cold where the washcloth goes, but just the sensation of terrycloth rubbing moderately over skin, and that that’s okay and the right thing to do.

I work my way up my legs, paying attention to the major nerve path and the major muscle groups (always with big, squishy gestures, not too challenging, but very tissue-mobilizing.)

I go back to my knees a couple of times, where the main effort is to mobilize the circulation and draw away the swelling.

I work on my low back and hips until the inclination to spasm turns off. I tell them to take it easy, just let go, you’ll know when it’s time to contract, now settle down.

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Then I lean forward to dip my arms and work on them, with somewhat gentler gestures. Since I can’t remember just what normal sensation is there, I look for overall warmth and better mobility in my forearms, with touch signals as close to normal as we can get.

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Part of the idea, obviously, is not only to re-normalize my skin as much as possible, but to improve surface circulation, so that as much magnesium as possible can be taken up by the troubled tissues.

Once I have squishy-massaged my arms from fingertips to collarbones, I do a quick scrubby pass on my back (where I used to get symptoms, and don’t want anymore)…

And then I get the Calgon experience, lying back in a warm bath, feeling alive and remarkably well, with nothing to do but enjoy myself until the water cools.

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Speaking to my brain in a way it can’t ignore

Health professionals dress it up in fancy words, but this is what brain plasticity boils down to: our brains take in messages that are so simple and so primal they slide in below the level of words. The way to push back against that plasticity and make it go the way you want, is to address your brain in ways that are simple, primal, and slide in below the level of words – even if you use words at the time. Even in spoken exchanges, remember, 90% of the communication is nonverbal. This is true when we talk to ourselves, as well as others.

With enough persistence, and a persuasive enough message, the brain can be re-reshaped.

Since so much of CRPS’s maintenance relates to the brain having been reshaped in a distorted way, part of the task is to reshape it into a healthier structure.

Dr. S. V. Ramachandran’s work on mirror therapy and lens therapy for people with amputations and other limb pain problems led the way in brain plasticity work, highlighting the very powerful (and nonverbal) effect of visual input on brain remapping.

There are several other ways to do this, including forms of brain retraining such as hypnosis, biofeedback, meditation, specific and clear visualization of painless movement (which, if done clearly enough, can cause brain activity nearly identical to the real thing) โ€“ and, naturally, using tones of parental imperative with your own sensations.

Speaking to my body in tones of loving maternal authority, I find, is remarkably persuasive.

Why I start deep and work my way out

I find that it’s often easier to start with deep tissues and then address the surface issues. It sounds weird, but it’s often easier for me to get past the surface sensations when I’m reaching into the muscle and fascial layers, and then, when the deeper tissues are responsive and the blood is flowing through them again, it’s a lot easier and more productive to work out the surface sensations.

Conversely, if I start with the surface sensations, I may not get far enough to be able to dig in to release and mobilize the deeper tissues. Getting halfway through surface pain leaves my body a lot more sensitive to intrusions than just charging in and starting with the deeper tissues.

On the other hand, there are times when the surface simply has to be dealt with, or there’s no chance of getting to the deeper tissues. My left calf was like that when I first wrote this, though it has improved a lot since then.

YMMV. Each of us is different. That is part of what makes CRPS so interesting, and at the same time so darn hard to treat.

Physical issues

In mobilizing tissue, the washcloth provides traction against my skin, so I hardly have to use any hand strength at all. This is important, because if I had to rely on my grip to get hold of the tissues, this would be totally out of the question.

The water neutralizes a lot of gravity, so it’s easier to control a limb you’re massaging. I can squish the muscles with either one hand or two, boof them against the bone, and jostle them around.

I can mobilize a lot of tissue with very little effort, if I use a washcloth in the bath.

I figure I should spend at least a solid 20 min. in the tub, to absorb as much as possible of the magnesium, the warmth, and the chance to melt all the little knots out of my brain. It’s not a bad prescription. Not bad at all. There is always considerable improvement, and sometimes it makes me feel almost completely well.

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7 thoughts on “The sheer activity of Epsom salt baths

  1. Well, you just made me ask for help to fill the bath! Being sensitive to sulfur compounds, epsom salts is out for me, but I am having discussions with my chemical company about affordable, reliably pure magnesium chloride… hoping it will work out as a wonderful substitute. Magnesium chloride hexahydrate is currently used as “magnesium oil” or topical solution and is a wonderful spasm and pain reducing product, so here’s hoping my powdered mag chlor will help me to “Calgonland” as well. Great article as always!

    • Thank you, and I’m delighted to take credit for getting you into a nice bath ๐Ÿ™‚

      It would be wonderful if you posted a follow-up comment about the MgClH6 (did I get that right?) and let us know who your supplier is. That could be very helpful to others, especially if it absorbs better than the MgSO4.

  2. t a wonderful write up on this subject, I would only add a bit about after the bath Isy, I notice that the epsome salts and warm water really open up the pores and dialate the blood vessels, this can lead to inflammation when/if one gets up and walks around too soon afterwards, I like to recomend a person rest with legs elevated for @ 10 minutes afterwards to regulate pressure before resuming activitys.

    • Thank you!

      Sandy raises an excellent point, which I had forgotten about by the time I finished the articleโ€ฆ Even a tepid to warm bath causes the peripheral vessels to open up, and we have to be aware of the state of our vessels, since a dysautonomic nervous system can’t compensate for changes in posture and position.

      My usual approach is to empty the bath while I’m in it. This reintroduces my body to gravity and air gradually enough that I’m generally asymptomatic when I get out. I think Sandy’s suggestion is probably more comfortable for many people, though.

      Before I came to terms with tepid baths, and always made the water too warm, I had to lie straight down โ€“ sometimes on the bathroom floor โ€“ for at least 20 min. afterwards. Otherwise, the nausea and disorientation was intolerable.

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