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Does Epsom salt help diminish DOMS and 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? Why did I have such severe delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)? I’ve started an 8-week program of my own invention, so that I can be ready for a photo shoot I’m planning for my 42nd birthday.

I didn’t realize exactly how taxing the sessions were, so I was surprised how intense the swelling and inflammation 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 a friend who works in PR gifted to me as he 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!

Caveat Emptor

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 from DOMS. 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. Why am I 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 glowing review for you for this wonder product. I was about to embarrass myself.

Some realizations

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’s 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 your body then flushes 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 of salt put into a regular tub of water.

Analyzing the evidence

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

I laughed about that ridiculous Shake Weight while rubbing myself smugly with diluted bath salts. It’s actually kinda hysterical, no?

I have to be honest with myself...

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, DOMS isn’t even caused by lactic acid. Lactic acid leaves muscles within a few hours, once your muscles use it as a fuel source and then flush it 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. Later, I felt much better after my full hour massage. I did both yesterday after suffering all week. Today I’m suddenly fine.

A moment of total honesty

I have to be honest with myself: I accepted some hype. I did so, because of how someone I trusted presented this to me. 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. and 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 you use them to treat muscle soreness caused by DOMS. 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.

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Jack Kirven is a mobile personal trainer in Charlotte, NC. He is the owner of INTEGRE8T Wellness.

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