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Muscle Pain and Magnesium Sulfate

Health & Wellness: Does Epsom salt help diminish lactic acid burn?

I was in terrible pain all week until this morning. My arms are so shot from a chest workout followed the next day by a shoulder workout that the throbbing in my triceps kept me awake a few nights. Why did this happen? I’ve started an eight-week program of my own invention, so that I can be ready for a photo shoot I’m planning for my 42nd birthday. (See more: youtu.be/2Qosg5SbQpY)

I didn’t realize exactly how taxing the sessions were, so I was surprised how intense the swelling had become. I couldn’t stand it anymore after another sleepless night, so I finally applied some (pH)ULE5 to my arms yesterday. It’s a foaming muscle rub that was gifted to me by a friend who works in PR and was promoting it as a new athletic product. He knows my background and wanted my opinion of it. I loved it! It worked exceptionally well, so I’d use it only sporadically. I don’t want to ever run out of it!

The reason is this: It was a very short-lived brand. The identity changed, and now it’s called Theraworx. It’s the exact same formula, but psychologically I’m attached to the flashy sport label. I know it’s ridiculous, but that’s precisely what good marketing can do. I swear by the stuff! It almost instantly reduces my discomfort and swelling. It’s main ingredient is magnesium sulfate attenuated 6X 0.05%. Wow!

My friend told me this had been under development for years, and that they were trying to keep it secret until they were ready for a broader launch. I was hooked. I treated it like manna, using it only in times of most urgent need. I have no idea why I’m still treating it this way, since it does come in a new package. But that isn’t the point of this article.

I was about to write a review for you for this wonder product. I was about to embarrass myself.

Years of research, eh? I went to research how and why this product works so much better than anything else I’d tried. What is the mechanism by which it works? The claim for (Ph)ULE5 is that it is a mild base that gets absorbed through the skin, and thus negates the strong acidity of lactic acid. By doing what? Creating a salt that is then flushed out?

Not so fast. In case you’re like me and didn’t realize it: magnesium sulfate is Epsom salt. Not only that, Epsom salt is itself slightly acidic, having a pH of 6.0-5.5. Also I confused “attenuated” when “augmented.” Attenuation is diluting or reducing the intensity of something. In other words, this solution of Epsom salt is six times weaker than the concentration you’d get in a normal amount put into a regular tub of water.

Let’s break all this down. First, according to Paul Ingraham at PainScience.com, it’s been proven pretty solidly that Epsom salt cannot move across the topmost layer of dead skin cells. They’re full of keratin and surrounded by skin oils. Our skin, by definition, evolved to be an exceedingly efficient barrier between the world and our bodies.

Second, lactic acid has a pH of 2.4. How does it make sense that putting Epsom salt’s 5.5 with lactic acid’s 2.4 would yield anything neutral at all? Also, there are so many types of pain. According to Dr. Richard Weil at OnHealth.com, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) isn’t even caused by lactic acid. Lactic acid leaves muscles within a few hours, once it’s been used as a fuel source and then flushed away. The residual pain and swelling with DOMS are caused by microscopic tears in the affected muscle fibers, and by the flooding of white blood cells and other particles into the area.

And finally, I should mention massage. You have to massage that foam or liquid into your skin. Did I forget to mention I got a massage last night a few hours after I applied the (pH)ULE5? I felt better immediately after vigorously applying the product. I felt much better after my full-hour massage. I did both yesterday after suffering all week. Today, I’m suddenly fine.

I have to be honest with myself: I accepted some hype. I did so, because of how it was presented to me by someone I trusted. In his defense, he knows nothing about sports or science. He’s a PR specialist: He takes what they tell him, and then makes it marketable. I fell for the scientific jargon, and I also fetishized the “sports/athletic” application. Using it made me an informed athlete on the cutting edge of a new therapy. I could be a hot, smart jock. Because of (pH)ULE5. Um…I’m already a hot, smart jock. Bye, Felicia!

Until now I couldn’t believe how quickly (pH)ULE5 disappeared. That it never really took off. That no one else was hip to it. I understand better now: I’m just as easily manipulated by fads as anyone else. If this can happen to me when I’m purposefully seeking to avoid fads, then it’s no surprise that other people grab desperately for pills, powders and electronic six-pack stimulators. I laughed about that ridiculous Shake Weight while rubbing myself smugly with diluted bath salts. It’s actually kinda hysterical, no?

I believe this product is a placebo. I also believe all applications of magnesium sulfate must also have little or no effect when used to treat muscle soreness. Rather, I think that what was helping me was rubbing the muscles, relaxing during the massage, sitting in warm water and believing that a magic potion was doing what it claimed.

info: Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

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