Float Therapy: Does it Actually Work?

Float Therapy: Does it Actually Work?

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Float therapy is a relatively new wellness trend which claims to provide significant physical and mental health benefits. While different wellness centers offer different types of float therapy treatments, most of them involve sensory deprivation and a whole-body soak in water treated with Epsom salts.

But are there any medical studies proving that float therapy improves health or is it just a scam? Can you achieve the benefits for cheaper at home by using Epsom salts? And how do real users describe the effects of float therapy?

In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze medical studies on float therapy to find out if it's actually effective or if it's a waste of money.

We'll give our take on whether it's possible to use Epsom salts at home to achieve the same benefits much cheaper, and share a real, unsponsored float therapy user review. 

Is Float Therapy Actually Healthy?

Surprisingly, there are a decent number of preliminary studies on floatation therapy published in medical journals. 

A clinical trial published in the PLOS ONE journal examined whether float therapy could reduce anxiety and depression in one single one-hour session. The study was funded by a non-profit organization so it was free of any funding bias.

The results were impressive. 75% of float therapy trial participants reported reduced anxiety and a full 100% of participants requested a second float therapy session, suggesting that all of them experienced positive effects.

A 2014 clinical trial on float therapy that lasted seven weeks found similar results: stress, depression and pain were significantly decreased in the float group, while general optimism and sleep quality improved. This study included 12 individual float sessions.

A third trial tested the effectiveness of float therapy in 25 patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The float therapy group experienced a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms, and 37% of the float therapy participants experienced full remission of their anxiety.

The third study was funded by grants from a region in Sweden, and had no funding bias given that it was basic governmental research.

Overall we can conclude from medical research that float therapy is potentially effective for reducing anxiety and depression, and appears to also improve mood and general outlook.

Real, Unsponsored Float Therapy User Review

A YouTube creator named Doctor Mike tried float therapy and showed what the pods looked like as well as shared his take on the experience:

Is Magnesium Responsible for the Benefits?

Float therapy involves resting in water containing significant quantities of Epsom salt. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, and when it’s dissolved into a bath it absorbs into the bloodstream through the skin.

A medical review published in the Nutrients journal proved that magnesium is effectively absorbed through the skin, and this may be responsible for the beneficial effects of float therapy.

Magnesium deficiency is increasing throughout the developed world as documented in medical research, and if float therapy effectively treats magnesium deficiency, this alone may be responsible for all of the benefits of the therapy.

Magnesium deficiency has been shown to cause anxiety and depression (as shown in the above-linked review), so its treatment may lead to the results seen in the float therapy studies.

This is an important consideration, because if magnesium supplementation alone is responsible for all or nearly all of the benefits, then patients could access these benefits far cheaper by using oral magnesium supplements or by adding Epsom salts to their own bathwater.

We would be curious to see the results of a medical study comparing at-home Epsom salt treatment versus float therapy.

We Tried Float Therapy Ourselves

As one of the authors of this article, I wanted to try float therapy myself to share my thoughts on the overall experience and whether or not it's worth the money.

I visited a local float therapy location called Go With the Float in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The waiting room was a relaxing setting, as shown below:

float therapy UGC 2

I booked a 60-minute session and it was quite a unique experience.

You shower and then enter a relatively large room (much larger than a bathtub size) with shallow water infused with magnesium that makes you float. 

This location left a blue light on at the start of the session, but you could control the light and shut it off entirely:

float therapy UGC 1

Floating entirely weightless in the dark was somewhat disorienting at first (not in a stress-inducing way, just a really novel feeling), but I eventually relaxed into it, shut the lights off and found the practice to be extremely relaxing both physically and mentally.

I plan to go again now that I know how it works, as I think I could relax into it quicker and experience greater benefits.

The room is so dark with the lights off that it makes no difference if you have your eyes open or closed, but the water is shallow and you can leave at any time (and re-enter if you want to) if you feel uncomfortable.

When I left the session, and on my drive home, I felt very relaxed and "level."

I would rate the practice 8/10 and think it may have greater benefits for people with pain or tension, but that's just my personal opinion.

What Does Float Therapy Cost?

One of the downsides of float therapy is that it’s relatively expensive, and very rarely covered by medical insurance. Prices vary significantly based on location, but one float therapy session tends to range anywhere from $40 - $150 based on our research.

This means that one weekly float therapy session could end up costing over $5,000 annually. 

Float therapy is also very hard to replicate in the home, because of the large space needed, the unique sensory deprivation setup, the high quantities of Epsom salt and the cleaning required after every session.

The high cost makes research comparing float therapy with at-home Epsom use even more important, because Epsom salt is relatively inexpensive and may be covered by medical insurance if there’s a documented need (like magnesium deficiency).

Oral magnesium supplements often cost less than $30 for a month’s supply, and Epsom salts can be found even cheaper.

Float Therapy Study Issues

Due to the nature of float therapy, it’s nearly impossible to set up a placebo-controlled trial testing its effectiveness. A placebo is a medical term for an inert substance given to one group (who aren’t aware of whether they’re receiving an active or inert substance), to ensure that any results from a medical trial aren’t just psychologically-induced. 

If the results of a medical study show the intervention is more effective than placebo, it’s considered to be effective. Researchers may give one clinical trial group a pain pill with active ingredients, and one trial group a pill with inactive ingredients. Because users won’t know which is which, this eliminates the mind's effect on the outcome.

Since float therapy is an immersive physical experience, there’s no way to “fake” it and control the risk that the minds of the patients may be causing all of the beneficial effects (since patients may be expecting the therapy to work, they may experience positive mood changes for that reason alone rather than anything about the therapy causing those mood changes). This is a  limitation of research on float therapy that makes the clinical results slightly weaker in our opinion.

In the future we look forward to trials testing the effectiveness of float therapy against pharmaceutical medications, as this data would be more convincing than the trials linked above.

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There is convincing early research suggesting that float therapy can reduce anxiety and improve physical and mental wellness.

The clinical trials on float therapy suffer from low-quality data, because it's challenging to set up a placebo group to compare against, given that it's an immersive experience.

Some of the health benefits associated with float therapy may stem from its use of of Epsom salts which are rich in magnesium, and these benefits may be able to be replicated far cheaper through magnesium supplementation or by using Epsom salts at home.

We look forward to reviewing more research in the future that emerges on float therapy, and we hope to see it tested against pharmaceutical medications as well as magnesium supplementation, as these types of studies would allow patients and researchers to determine the true value of the therapy.

Most online reviews we came across on float therapy were highly positive, and we haven't seen any risks or side effects associated with this therapy.