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Adrienne Dellwo

A Hot Bath: How Much Does it Help with Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

By April 3, 2013

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Research Brief

A lot of people with fibromyalgia say that a hot bath helps them sleep, and now we have a study backing that up.

Researchers decided to see what sleep-related physiological changes happened in women with fibromyalgia when they regularly immersed themselves in warm water. For three weeks, five evenings a week, the women went in and soaked for half an hour. They had polysomnographies (sleep studies) done before the study began, after the first and last days of the warm-water soaks, and at a follow-up time.

The polysomnographies showed that the women:

  • Got to sleep faster,
  • Entered REM sleep sooner,
  • Had increased sleep efficiency
  • Woke up less often.

Most of us know that when we sleep better, we feel better. Having proof that a warm bath actually improves sleep quality - when so little else does - shows us the true value of a nice long bath.

I typically take baths early in the day, but I'm thinking maybe I should try to move that to later. It's hard, because my husband generally goes to sleep several hours before I do and taking a late bath would wake him up. However, the women in the study soaked as early as 6 p.m. sometimes, so it looks like the benefit is there even when the bath isn't right before bed.

Do you use baths as part of your management strategy? Do you feel like they improve your sleep? Take the poll, and leave your comments below!


Photo Bernhard Lang/Getty Images

April 3, 2013 at 3:29 am
(1) Judith Anderson says:

Thank you. Two years ago I fell and borke my upper arm and shoulder and after three marginally successful surgeries I have been unable to bathe as I cannot get up out of the tub.

I finally took a bath again a week ago and felt geat but within a few hours had body wide pain striking me and am uncertain why.

Your article encouages me to try again as I so love a long soak.

April 3, 2013 at 5:52 am
(2) Marijke says:

Thanks for this. I like warm baths, much prefer them to showers. Can you share where this study was published? I much prefer to see the data myself since there is often a lot more information included.


April 3, 2013 at 8:31 am
(3) Sue says:

I have F/M and I am going to a re-hab center to soak in the heated pool. I go a couple of times a week, and the benefits are nice. Less pain, and sleep better. A friend of mine suggested it to me. I’m glad I went.

April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am
(4) Shakota says:

When I was first diagnosed with fibro, the rheumatologist said just, “heat, heat, heat.”

My absolute best remedy for increased pain is: take a pain pill, then a hot bath, follow it with a nap. I always feel better when I wake up from that. This was suggested by Dr. Robert Bennett of the Oregon Health Sciences Center.

Whenever the stiffness/pain in my neck is too much to ignore, a hot bath works better than a pain pill, but the two together is the best.

April 3, 2013 at 11:29 am
(5) Kristin says:

Totally works for me, and always has. I cannot relax my muscles and sleep without a decent hot bath in the evening, and have been known to have up to five a day!! ;)

That said, it also helps if you dont hurt yourself getting out, and then have someone to work out any remaining knots while they are still warm and flexible. If my lovely sband is not around, I use a long handled percussion massager. Its heavy, but I lie on my front and just drag it round using gravity to help.

I also find using various additives to the bath help. Bath salts are great, as are radox and olbas oil bubble baths. In fact just bought some Radox muscle soak with black pepper a few hours ago, and cant wait to soak in it tonight.

April 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm
(6) Elle says:

Hot baths at night are great! Big fan – I use tons of Epson salt, dim the lights, and listen to ‘Songza’ (great for music therapy – they have a section for before – bed music). I’ve been sleeping better, absolutely since starting to bath a night.

It also really helps with mornings too. I can put clothes on when I get up with less sensitivity. Nothing worse than getting dressed for the day with moist, fresh, ultra nerve-stimulated skin.

I also use sugar scrubs, or salt scrubs (natural brands that smell great – build in aroma therapy too) 4x a week. Most brands seem to leave a waxy coating on my skin (no moisturizer necessary after) that dries over night, making a sort of ‘armor’ over my skin-cells. My skin often feels 50% tougher. This also cuts down skin sensitivity the next day, making dressing easier.

Just a few suggestions that also ensure you’re giving yourself some much deserved pamper time. When you put up with everything we do, half an hour of home-spa bathtime is well earned!

April 3, 2013 at 9:20 pm
(7) TR says:

A book I read shortly after being diagnosed suggested a hot shower or bath first thing in the morning and then at night. It has made a significant difference for me and I can tell when I miss at morning or night. I find it loosens up the morning stiffness. I also am able to relax and fall asleep sooner at night.

April 3, 2013 at 10:51 pm
(8) Sherry says:

I so wish I could have a bath at all!
With my FM I have been diagnosed with Rheumatoid, Psoriatic & Osteoarthritis so I can’t get out of the tub even if I could make it into the tub in the first place…

I would appreciate any idea’s on getting me out……
FYI: I can’t kneel or use my arms to lift me up enough to get my feet under me…. nor can I stand anyone trying to lift me due to my constant painful skin and sore spots…

If I have a big hot tub with stairs in and inner ledges for me to climb out on… might work but no room for that.

I love my shower but a relaxing bath would be the best part….

April 5, 2013 at 3:56 pm
(9) Linda Drewry says:

I treated myself to a hot tub and have a soak 2 or 3 times a week before bedtime and it’s the best night I get. I had problems with the chemicals at first and got skin rashes, but eventually found a natural spa product and it’s perfect. The power jets are as good as massage for any aching or stiff areas.

April 5, 2013 at 3:59 pm
(10) Suebee says:

I’m gonna do this as much as I possibly can.I always stay up later than I should, reading. I ought to be soaking in a hot bath first, go to bed and read for a while, then shut off the lights. You have all inspired me to make a change for the better – thank you – my fibro-friends. :)

April 5, 2013 at 4:30 pm
(11) Henri says:

Hot baths help my pain…..until I get out! 😬

April 5, 2013 at 5:27 pm
(12) Daphne Wallace says:

IF I do NOT take a bath after over-doing, or gardening, and I feel a twinge from sore muscles, I will hurt and cramp-up all night! Not be able to sleep for an hour or two, from the pain in my legs, and neck. It is healing!

April 5, 2013 at 5:29 pm
(13) Daphne Wallace says:

IF I do NOT take a bath after over-doing, or gardening, and I feel a twinge from sore muscles, I will hurt and cramp-up all night! Not be able to sleep for an hour or two, from the pain in my legs, and neck. It is healing!
Hot bath, and wine! Get a rail, put on bathtub. Drain bath, before trying to get out, if have to-drying the bottom as much as can.

April 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm
(14) Daphne Wallace says:

IF I haven’t the time to soak, like in the morning- I use a few inches of hot water, for a sore back or legs, and lay in it, for at least five minutes and bathe, then splash water over me, and get out.

April 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm
(15) Daphne Wallace says:

This neurologist told me to run the shower over my neck and shoulders for fifteen minutes, both morning and night! I had damaged neck and arthritis in shoulders, but probably was the start of fibromyalgia. He was very sympathetic about my pain, and was sad for me- very touching.

April 5, 2013 at 5:55 pm
(16) FibroFran says:

I can’t bathe ever because the warm water sets me off into horrible sweats which I just can’t tolerate, I can’t wait to get out and cool off. Also, warm water sets off my neuropathy in my hands and feet, they’re red as beets when I get out of the tub. Fibro makes me very hot, I prefer ice cold water, fan, air conditioner all year long, I know it sounds crazy. I think my reaction is from the autonomic nervous system aspect, just guessing.

April 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm
(17) Karen says:

I agree, a bath works wonder for sleep and relaxation. And HYDRATION. That’s important. I often use 2 cups of epsom salts in the bath water. If I feel terrible, I will add two bottles of hydrogen peroxide.
Nothing loosens me up better than a good hot bath.

April 5, 2013 at 10:05 pm
(18) Sherry LK says:

To Sherry (# 8 comment above): the best solution for you is to get one of those walk-in tubs. It takes up no more room, at the most, as the same space that a regular bathtub takes. I love a nice warm bath and my body does too. I really love the feel of moving water. I move my legs back and forth and my muscles are so appreciative and relax. But then I get sooo hot after I get out. Even if it’s a very cool bath I’ll get out, dry off, and then become dripping wet from intense sweating. Makes me crazy.

April 6, 2013 at 1:06 am
(19) Helena says:

Hot baths and too-hot showers as well as spas and saunas actually make my symptoms much worse for the next several hours. I can go from feeling mildly unwell to feeling desperately ill. My fibro specialist said they see this in some of their fibro patients. I’m glad to know a hot bath helps some folks, though, and that it’s helpful to some patients.

April 6, 2013 at 8:35 am
(20) Jan says:

Linda – I have a small hot tub I’m unable to use due to dryness and rashes – I’d love to know about the natural solution you found? I’m already using low-Bromine and Minerals but I still have problems. Thanks!

April 6, 2013 at 3:33 pm
(21) FibroFran says:

Fibrofran AGAIN, thank you folks who also feel worse from warm/hot baths, I don’t feel as crazy now, just alittle. feel good all

April 7, 2013 at 10:30 am
(22) Lucy says:

I’ve always loved a long warm soak. Now, with FMS, it has become almost imperative. I head for the tub right after any hard work in the yard to forestall some of the pain. My whirlpool tub has been a life saver!
For those who have trouble getting into and out of a regular tub, there are walk in jetted tubs if you can afford to have one installed. One brand is Premier and recently Jaquzzi came out with one.

April 7, 2013 at 1:25 pm
(23) sS.Bethany Mary says:

I used to love hydrotherapy at the 32 degrees C. and a very warm bath. However things began to change and andything over a tepid heat caused me to go into a terrible state of seating copious amounts, feeling weak and nauesous and having to lie down for an hour, with air conditoning going full blast onto me. My Muscuso-Skeletal Specialist told me it was my Central Nervous System unable to control the temperature of my body. I think it is called Autosonomia found in numerous patients and he has treated long time over a hundred patients with FMS and finds it very common. He suggests tepid baths and showers and finding a pool sligytly less hot than the hydrotherapy one.

April 8, 2013 at 2:28 am
(24) Marcella says:

I am so thankful for my little claw foot tub. I just wish it were a little bit bigger. I regularly bath to sooth my muscles and my painful arthritis, especially after spending any time in the garden or after a day of being on my feet to long. I always use epson salts in my bath water, and have found a wonderful concoction of herbs and epson salts. I often tell my husband and friends that the insurance company could save a lot of money if they bought me a soaking tub, better still one of those soaker tubs with the door for easy access.

April 8, 2013 at 4:21 am
(25) Debbie says:

I was told by the rheumatologist that hot baths would help with pain management; he was so right! I usually shower twice daily during the work week, due to time constraints; but when I’m battling with pain a bath is the best thing ever! And over weekends when I have more time I usually bath instead of showering. The only challenge is getting out of the bath without killing myself, lol… ;>

April 8, 2013 at 6:30 pm
(26) ctlo says:

HI- Mi experience is different, first I only have shower at home, and second its make me feel dizzy, and Ive begin to sweat. In the past I used to spend plenty of hours at the bath, but now Its not pleasure. Some times Ive cross the hall to my bed because Ive feel really sick.- Im glad most of you can feel relief with a bath.- Ive send greetings for all from Montevideo, Uruguay.-

April 8, 2013 at 8:43 pm
(27) Deb says:

Taking a warm bath at night is a very important part of my nightly ritual .
It’s really important, Adrienne, to get to bed early ,and at about the same time every night. I think you’ll start to feel better if you retire with your husband in the evening. You mention that you still struggle with insomnia. Better to take a lunesta or ambien than to become sleep deprived. I think also it would be great to start your day with a boiled egg and a slice of sprouted grain bread rather than a bagel. We ‘ll all feel better when you feel better! LOL

April 12, 2013 at 1:16 am
(28) C says:

OH Yes! I use baths. It’s one of the only things that works. It does help me sleep.

April 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm
(29) Linda Drewry says:

To Jan at #20. The product is called Natural Spa and I order it online from claritywaterproducts (dot) com. That’s all I use. I don’t use any bromide or chemicals, just wash with organic soap when I change the water, about every 3rd month. Good luck, hope it works for you too.

April 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm
(30) Nikki says:

I have taken hot bath for years for my restless leg…sometimes having to get up during the night and do so. I started magnesium and have to do it less. Baths if too hot can make you fatigued and sometimes feel nausea, like we really need that..god bless.

April 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm
(31) Dana says:

My baths are exhausting. The last time I took a bath. My better half, said I looked better goin in to the tub then going out is a different story! I’ll go into the tub when my boddy allows me to. Because I’ll run the water get undressed carefully go into the tub. I wash my hair then my body and then shave. By the time I am so exhausted that I don’t want to dry off because I am just literally drained. Then to dry my hair is another exhausting task! Then getting dressed is also exhausting!! I want to do my makeup everyday but the pain of the fibromyalgia say’s it’s not worth it to do my makeup!! It’s an exhausting task! I have no state stepping in to help me. I need home house healthcare. I’m not getting it. My fibro is so hard to deal with. I’m weak, have way more painful days then I do “good” days. Any suggestions??????

April 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm
(32) greybeh says:

For folks who are saying they have sweating issues — I was on 40mg Prozac with my 50-150mg a day of Ultram. Both affect Serotonin. Ask your doctor if you are on any medication that can affect Serotonin… that’s Cymbalta, ultram, anti-depressants and possibly other drugs (flexeril, to a lesser extent, I think).

Always ask your doctor and don’t make any med changes yourself, but sweating can be a sign of too much serotonin-affecting medication. I had to cut down to 20mg a day of Prozac (with the doctor’s approval) because a pharmacist told me I could be having a reaction.

I’m also curious what specific things people use in their baths. I saw someone say “bath salts” but I’m not sure if there’s a certain kind. I have used Epsom salt. I’m curious about what herbs (and how to use them so they aren’t messy) someone said they use.

I have arthritis in my neck and I love to have the hot water on my neck and upper back. I turn my back to the shower so I can get some water pressure against those sore muscles. I actually take a bath AND a shower at the same time. So relaxing…

April 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm
(33) Abot Bensussen says:

I love a hot bath, but never take it before going out. It tires me so, hot water and epson salts, been using it for years. Just need to go right to bed afterwards, with a towel wrapped head. I find it just exhausting and now, at 72, with dry skin, I try not to bathe too often, or too hot.

No healthy person would believe how if I bathe, I can’t go out. Day or evening, I need my bed for hours afterwards.

April 12, 2013 at 8:38 pm
(34) SleepingKat says:

A warm bath with Epsom salts and a few drops of lavender oil is ultra soothing. And don’t overdo, 20 minutes is plenty.

April 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm
(35) zzcat says:

I completely agree with the hot water as treatment. Anytime I can soak in a hot tub or hot bath I definitely feel better, my pain is lessened, and I can sleep better. I recently bought Epson salts and put those in my bath and it also helped soak out the toxic feeling in my body. Between all the medicines and the illness, my body feels like it needs cleansing, and that really helped. I am so thankful for hot baths and tubs. I moved into an apartment building just because there was a hot tub for me to relax in. Unfortunately, two weeks after I moved in the hot tub stopped working and they haven’t fixed it yet.

April 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm
(36) Paula says:

I also have FM and Rheumatoid, Psoriatic & Osteoarthritis and find it very difficult to get out of the tub. If I can turn over and get on my hands and knees, I can struggle out. Two years ago we added a new bathroom and bought a tub with the swirling jets. However it emptys the hot water tank before it is full if I wait 10-15 minutes I can finish. So much for the water saving tank! I did finally get in and sat for about 15 minutes but the jets pushing against my muscles made them weak for hours. I haven’t tried again.

April 15, 2013 at 4:57 am
(37) Cathy says:

I have ME & a bath sends me into an almost full blown episode of weakness, nauseous ness, etc! No bath or hoy tubs for this girl! I read that heat is a trigger for ME illness.

April 15, 2013 at 10:19 am
(38) Tammy says:

Having had fibro for many years, I have experienced many different symptoms and reactions, including the profuse sweating after taking a shower, and the need to lay down and cool off. What works for me RIGHT NOW (it may change) is to take my bath/shower at night, even though I have always liked getting mine in the morning. Doing it all – shower, hair, makeup, getting dressed – is more than I can do at one time, so I break it up. I take a hot shower at night, wash my hair and brush the tangles out, (fold a towel over my pillow) then let it dry overnight. Then to get ready for work In the mornings, I use a hair dryer/round brush and flat iron on my hair, and get dressed, it’s still tiring but much less so than doing it all at one time.

If I have to get my shower in the morning or before going somewhere, it always helps me to cool the water down after I’m done bathing. I gradually turn it cooler and cooler, until it’s as cold as is comfortable, making sure the cool water sprays under my arms and on my face. That is really a huge help to me, it generally cools me off, and keeps me from having the sweats and feeling sick/nauseous when I get out. Although the warm water helps my body aches and muscles, it tends to zap any energy I have.

May 1, 2013 at 11:27 am
(39) Marilyn says:

I have heard great things about hot/warm baths helping FM folks, my problem is that I am scared of not being able to get out after getting all loosened up. I have a large midsection that doesn’t aid in bending and getting up and currently I have no safety rails to pull myself up. I also know that I cannot get up from using one or two hands onto a bar and lifting my dead weight up on a slippery set up to boot.

I try to concentrate the stream on my neck, shoulders and lower back when I shower, there’s nothing much more I can do.

May 2, 2013 at 1:44 am
(40) Sharon Lorraine Pavnica says:

When my pain gets really bad and lasts for days, a hot bath at night definitely helps relax me. I like to crawl into bed right after the bath.
However sometimes the pain has been so bad during the day, that the simple act of getting the bath ready, getting into the bath, drying off and getting into my pjs is more than a I can imagine doing. I have zero energy left and I just want to get to sleep so I can’t feel the pain. When the energy level has been low all day and I’ve been fighting pain, sometimes a quick shower relaxes me enough to make sleep easier.

I have a deep soaking tub with air jets. I have found that the loud sound of the jets unnerves me and that I cannot get the jets aimed at the spots that really need help, so I opt to take a simple good old fashioned soak. I love the addition of lavender scented epsom salts. The lavender really relaxes me.

I was curious about the new step in tubs, but they cost several thousands of dollars and I simply don’t have that amount of money. I would also be concerned about any incidents of leakage.

June 27, 2013 at 8:14 pm
(41) dan says:

After trying all sorts of things I went to chlorine floater but wiped the areas I contacted with a brush before getting in hot tub and I am fine- maybe the little residue???? Don’t care!

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