When stress levels go up, sometimes self-care goes out the window and then it is fibromyalgia flare time. Since fibromyalgia is characterized by a hyperactive stress response anything that we can do to activate the opposite reaction, the relaxation response, helps lessen symptoms. One easy way to trigger a relaxation response is with topical magnesium lotions or soaking in magnesium-enriched water. In fact, a Mayo Clinic study found topical magnesium improved fibromyalgia symptoms.
Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral: it has calming effects on the brain, nerves, and muscles. And guess what mineral nearly everyone with fibromyalgia is deficient in? You guessed it! When scientists have analyzed the levels of magnesium in fibromyalgia patients they are consistently low. Taking oral magnesium is definitely helpful to support our muscles and nerves in fibromyalgia, but it is hard to take a dose large enough to activate the relaxation response orally due to its laxative effects at high doses. It is easier to get a magnesium dose large enough to trigger the relaxation response by letting your skin and muscles soak it up!
Topical Magnesium Creams and Oils
We absorb magnesium more efficiently through our skin than through our intestines, so a transdermal application is an effective way to trigger relaxation, without causing loose stools. You can bathe in Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or rub magnesium oil or lotion on your feet and legs to relax tight muscles and reduce muscle pain. Learn more about topical pain relievers for fibromyalgia in this video.
Topical magnesium comes in two types- oils and creams. Oils are more concentrated but can be a bit abrasive to the skin. I prefer magnesium creams and lotions as they are gentler on the skin than the oils. My favorite of course is my Frida Botanicals organic, lightweight, and creamy formula, or this lotion from Ancient Minerals.
Another way to absorb magnesium is by soaking in magnesium-rich water. If you live in a place with access to float therapy, I definitely encourage you to check it out. Flotation therapy is also called Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) and involves floating in a shallow warm tub that is saturated with about 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt to make it heavy and enable easy floating.
Often these pools are enclosed in lightproof and soundproof tanks that drastically reduce sensory input, which also helps induce a relaxation response. However there are also open options more like large bathtubs for those with claustrophobia. Flotation therapy has been shown to reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels and lower pain caused by muscle tension.
Floating in these tanks is like taking a bath while floating like a cork. It’s a unique experience; it feels like, I imagine, floating in space. Without the effect of gravity on your joints and muscles, there is less input to the pain-sensing nerves, resulting in less pain. In the float tank and for a few days after, my pain is decreased, my muscles feel looser, and my body is calmer. Float shops are springing up in large cities around the U.S., but if you can’t access flotation therapy, you can simulate its effects at home by taking a bath with as much Epsom salt as you can get to dissolve. Then turn off the lights and reduce noise as much as possible. You won’t float unless you have a huge bathtub (and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt!), but you will still get the relaxing benefits of magnesium absorbed through your skin.
So next time your stress is through the roof and self-care has gone out the window, apply some magnesium lotion, take a bath in Epsom salts, or go for a float!