Man healing sore muscles with a hot bath

How a Hot Bath Helps Heal Sore Muscles

Blog Written by Vybe.

Remember when your mom told you to take a bath and that was just the worst? Nowadays, a nice long soak in the tub seems like the height of self-indulgence. It doesn't matter if you're worn out from a tough day at work, a hard day with the kiddos, or a strenuous workout—when you're tired and every muscle aches, all you want to do is sink down in a hot bath, And then stay awhile. 

If it seems like there's almost a gravitational pull from your tub, that may be because soaking your body in hot water does relax your muscles, which, similar to massage, in turn relieves stress. When you add goodies like bath salts or essential oils to your tub, you're not just pampering yourself—you are doing your body some good. 

Therapeutic Benefits of a Bath

Not sure whether you need hot or cold water? That depends. If you have a localized injury like a sprain or muscle tear, then cold is the better treatment—part of the rest, ice, compression, and relaxation (RICE) that physical therapists recommend. For overall aches and pains, heat is the better choice. 

Is a hot or cold bath better for you?

Okay, not really a cold bath, that would be miserable. Cold, or cryotherapy is a completely different treatment than a hot bath. When you have an injury that's inflamed and swollen, then you want to treat it with chemical cold packs or cold compresses. The cold constricts blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to the sore or aching area, temporarily relieving pain. So this is a concentrated treatment that targets just one part of the body. You can learn more about heat therapy here.

Does a hot bath really help sore muscles?

A hot—between 90° and 100°F—bath, on the other hand, soothes and relaxes you from your head to your toes. A full-body bath pillow that supports you from your head all the way down your back to your tailbone turns your tub into a luxury spa experience so that you can really lay back and relax—there's no tension from trying to stay upright. And, there are lots of health benefits to a hot soak.

Heat dilates your blood vessels, so that blood flows more freely and tight muscles relax. If you get out of the tub after a long soak and think you're not as sore, that feeling isn't just in your head. After a hard workout, the increased blood flow removes the lactic acid build up in your muscles so that you recover faster. 

How a hot bath helps you sleep better.

Scientists recommend sleeping in a cool room—ideally, 60°-70° F for adults. But if that's just too cold for you, a warm bath has the same effect. When your body temperature drops at night, it sends the signal to produce the melatonin that helps you sleep. When you have a warm soak right before bed, your temps will naturally drop when you leave the hot tub—letting the melatonin know it's time to get to work making you sleepy. 

Pour on the Bath Salts

The bath salts you sprinkle in the tub do more than have a pleasing scent; the magnesium and sulfates in the salts help replenish the minerals you sweated out in the gym. Look for natural bath salts that are a blend of mineral-rich salts and essential oils, and do not have toxic ingredients. Treat yourself to natural salts and bath bombs—Epsom, Dead Sea, and Himalayan salts are the best. 

Salt baths are anti-inflammatory, and are also beneficial if you have a metabolic disease like Type 2 diabetes. A good bath pillow as a backrest helps diabetics  enjoy a warm and therapeutic soak.

Oatmeal— More than Just Breakfast

If you have dry skin or eczema, add some oatmeal to your bath water. A colloidal oatmeal bath treatment exfoliates skin and soothe the symptoms of eczema, helping your skin stay hydrated and reducing inflammation. If you don't have a commercial product, you can DIY it by pulverizing regular oats in the food processor before dropping it in the tub. 

Don't Forget the Essential Oils

Essential oils are, well, essential to a relaxing soak.

Most essential oils are actually in your pantry, but don't just go and dump black pepper or rosemary in the bath water. Besides pepper and rosemary, there are other plants whose extracts have healing properties—sweet marjoram, peppermint, and spearmint. Patchouli oil is a combination oil. When these essential oils are added to your bath salts, you get a holistic boost that softens your skin and leaves you with a subtle scent when you leave the soak. 

Create a Relaxing Environment in the Bath

Lots of people like scented candles and soft lighting to set the mood. Then, maybe a good book and your beverage of choice to soak the days troubles away. Now that you're all set, how's the tub? Are you resting on a soft cushion or twitching to get comfy? It's hard to relax when your neck and shoulders are tense from keeping your head above the water. 

Now, all the salts and oils in the world won't do you any good if you can't actually relax in the tub. That's why you need a bath pillow—or even better, a bath bed—for your therapeutic soaks. A plush pillow cradles your head and neck so you can sink deep in the tub, while a full-body quilted bath bed cushions the pressure points on your body, letting you soak longer, for greater healing and relaxation. 

Tips for a Relaxing Soak in the Tub:

  • Pour your bath salts and essential oils under the running water when the tub is filling up—you want complete dilution throughout the water.
  • Keep the temperature comfortably warm, but nowhere near maximum hot–most water heaters are set way higher than is safe for a bath.
  • Limit your soak time to 15 or 20 minutes. Too much time in the tub can dehydrate you and make you dizzy, which defeats the purpose of a soothing soak. 
  • Place your bath pillow in the tub before you turn on the water. The suction cups adhere better on a dry surface. 

Now, step in and say "ahhh".


Contributing Writer: Elizabeth Johnston