Can soap cure nighttime leg cramps?

It's probably the placebo effect and you should probably get more potassium.

Every year brings a new crop of oddball medical cures. And now, from the collective unconscious that brought you "a bag of water will repel flies" (it won't, it really really won't) comes this new cure for night time leg cramping: a bar of soap. Yes, soap. Doesn't even matter which kind of soap, which is kind of a clue that it is bogus, if you ask me.

Here is the scenario: you suffer from leg cramps at night. Simply slip a bar of soap between the covers, and your leg cramps will go away. Or, when you get a leg cramp, touch your leg with a bar of soap and the cramps will dissolve. I have heard it said both ways.
 
Neither method makes a lick of sense, but that doesn't stop people believing it. Just like magnets and copper for pain relief, soap for cramps is one of those folk remedies that people seem to believe without a lick of proof.

People who try it swear by it, of course. There is selection bias at work, here. The sort of person who would try sticking a bar of soap under their blankets is already predisposed to be gullible. And you have a selection bias in the results, as well: cramps always go away on their own. Some sooner than others. 
 
The best way to make a leg cramp go away is to relax and hold still. This can seem almost impossible when you are awakened by a torturously painful charley horse in the middle of the night, but it's true. Lie there and focus on your breathing. My guess is that this is the real magic of the soap: it convinces you that you are doing something, so you lie still and relax, trusting the soap, and lo: the cramp ends.
 
A better question is, why are you getting leg cramps in the middle of the night in the first place? Any time I have suffered from leg cramps, it always turns out that I am lacking in potassium. The next time you are at the store, rather than buying an extra bar of soap, buy a bunch of bananas. Eat two every day until your cramps subside. Yams, orange juice, potatoes, and yogurt are other good sources of potassium.
 
Being dehydrated, some medical conditions, and some medications can also cause nighttime leg cramps. If you are experiencing this problem more than (oh, say) once a month, don't buy soap: see a doctor. 
 
Credits: 

Image courtesy Flickr/iirraa

Comments

Curious-by-Nature's picture

Curious-by-Nature

Today is the first that I had heard of the remedy of a soap bar under the covers relieving leg cramps at night. I have suffered from these for the past few years. I have had my potassium levels checked and am well hydrated at night. I am an educated person and have a masters in a field of science. I understand about proven therapeudic benefits versus placebo effects. I understand this is unproven but intend to try it myself. There could be some effects that have simple not yet been identified or understood, and I doubt any intense research is going on. There are theories that esthers from the scents used in soap may act as vasodialators. The patronizing and rather insulting tone of the article above is, I think, reflective of a mind closed to the possibilities of an interaction not yet proven. So, people who try unproven things are gullible idiots? Hmm - most all accepted scientific fact was unproven until it was. The "sort of person who writes in such a disparaging tone" would be closed to most any new information or scientific progress. Don't go on any cruises - the world is flat, you know, and you would be the one to sail off the edge.

2

Joanna's picture

Joanna

Thank you for saying it so well. I also found that previous comment patronizing and insulting. I'm glad that you're going to try this remedy. I, too, was very skeptical but with a collection of hand-made soaps at home, I had nothing to lose by trying this, and it worked immediately! For the close-minded commenter, see the discussion on ThePeoplesPharmacy.com about the possible studies and theories about why soap works for people like me with nighttime leg cramps.

3

judy7's picture

judy7

Yes, it works. I have ankle cramps so bad sometimes at night. I put a small bar or piece of soap inside my sock near the ankle and it goes away in a few minutes. I keep it there all night to insure it stays gone. Before I discovered this cure, these ankle and foot cramps could last for hours and I could hardly stand the pain was so bad. Dove, and ivory both worked for me. BYW I have higher potassium levels, my doctor was concerned they were too high so in my case anyway it wasn't a lack of potassium.

I also use to use a calcium magnesium powder you mix in hot water and drink, and it helped a lot. It came in a can at the health food store called "Calm". But it must be dissolved before drinking and it tasted funny. Soap is the best cure.

4

rma's picture

rma

I am also a recovering skeptic. My wife and I, both trained in medical science, laughed out loud when a friend first told us about it. We both suffer from sometimes severe cramps, even though we take potassium supplements, so we tried it. We still get occasional cramps, but placing the bar of soap on the cramping area generally brings immediate relief. We still don't really believe it, but it has given us wonderful relief. The price is right, and there don't seem to be any downsides. Make your own decision.

5

Rhiannon's picture

Rhiannon

I have suffered from severe night cramps for many years,. I read about this bizzare idea of soap in the bed and thought, - what have I got to loose by trying it. That was three weeks ago and every night since, with the bar of soap under the sheet, has been blissfully cramp free. It cannot be the placebo effect because I was so sceptical about the whole thing at first, telling myself I was mad to even try it, grateful that I was alone so no one would see what an idiot I was being to do this, and no one could be more astonished than I was when I found it actually does work.

6

ROCHELLE WHITNE's picture

ROCHELLE WHITNE

I BELIEVE IN GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM BUT WHILE TAKING POTASSIUM PILLS INCREASING WATER AND EATING YOGERT AND BANANAS STILL FOUND NO RELIEF FROM OF ALL THINGS CRAMPS THAT ADVANCED FROM MY CALVES IN BOTH DIRECTION, MY THIGHS AND MY TOES! GOING TO BED WITH HOTEL SIZE BAR SOAPS IN MY SOCKS NOT ONLY IMMEDIATELY ENDED THE TOE CRAMPS BUT PUT AN END TO THIGH AND CALVE CRAMPS. MOM TOLD ME SHE PLACES A BAR OF SOAP NEAR HER NECK TO END PAIN NOT CAUSED BY CRAMPS. I HAVE A DEGENTERATING DISK ABOVE MY TAIL BONE AND EVERY MORNING THE PAIN I ENDURE JUST LIFTING OUT OF BED HAS DRIVEN ME TO SEEK A SPINE SPECIALIST IN THE PAST SO I TRIED THE SOAP BAR PLACING IT UNDER ME AT OR NEAR THE DISK THROUGH THE NIGHT AND IT DIDN'T WORK TO RELIEVE ALL THE PAIN BUT I SURE FEEL SOME RELIEF SO MUCH FOR IT BEING A PLACEBO EFFECT, I BELIEVE SINCE ALL BAR SOAPS FROM IVORY TO JERGENS ARE MADE WITH LYE AND BEING THAT OUR LARGEST ORGAN IS OUR SKIN THAT CLEARLY LYE'S ABSOPTION THROUGH THE SKIN, FEET! SHOULD BE STUDIED FURTHER BY THE MEDICAL SOCIETY BEFORE DISMISSING CURE AS PURELY PLACEBO.

7

SouthernSass's picture

SouthernSass

So, if you put the soap in the bed of the affected person without their knowledge and they experience their first cramp-free night in months, is that still the placebo effect? I think not! That's exactly what happened to me. Explain that away, okay?

8

Varina's picture

Varina

My husband get them nightly due to his medications which include prescription potassium and has for over a year. I read this "cure" in an newspaper article. I put the soap at the foot of his bead without his knowledge & after two nights without cramps, I told him about it. It worked for him.

9

Myra's picture

Myra

All was going well--I put the soap under the covers and no more leg cramps. Then one night I got an awful cramp, and thought, "Well, it doesn't really work." The next morning I found the bar of soap on the floor. It had slipped out of my bed. I am a "true believer!" Erika,who wrote the article, is an ass! I hope she is not in charge of ANYTHING!

10

Fred's picture

Fred

I too was a bit doubtful of the soap in the bed. I suffer from leg cramps and after checking with my doctor I found out that my potassium level was normal or slightly above. I tried the soap and from the first night with the soap I have been sleeping all night without cramps. If it is a quake cure or whatever I will continue to use a bar of soap.

11

Jeanette's picture

Jeanette

My roommates girlfriend gave me half a bar of Ivory about a month ago. I had never heard of this, but what the heck? It definitely works! I was having really bad cramps every night, several times a night, and was losing a lot of sleep over it.

Now my leg cramps are back, but I just read that you have to "refresh" your soap periodically -- scrape or score your existing bar, or just get a new one. From what I've read so far, any cheap soap will do.

Erica can BITE me! And btw, the fly thing DOES work.

12

The soap in the bed absolutely works, and does it really matter if it's all in our minds or not? My husband is a heart patient and takes several medications, and every night he would be awakened by severe leg cramps. I remembered hearing that soap helped with cramps, so I said what the heck and placed a bar of soap under the fitted sheet near his feet, and that's been the end of the cramps. One night while on a trip out of state, he forgot to put soap in the bed with him, and the cramps were back. Normally he, too, is pretty skeptical about old remedies, but he is now a believer. Erika, maybe someday, when you're old enough, you too will have cramps and you can put the soap to the test. Until then, just keep playing the shill.

13

Debstrrr's picture

Debstrrr

Mom has been suffering terribly from toe and leg cramps. I read about this and thought, what the heck. Next time she jumped outta bed hollering and fussing, I grabbed a bar of Dove soap. Her middle toe was sticking straight up, it was cramping so bad. I took the soap and set it on her foot, and we both watched with our mouths open as the toe slowly lowered and the cramp disappeared!! She has slept w/soap every since...HAS HAD NO CRAMPS AT ALL.
Can't tell ME it doesn't work, I've seen proof!

14

StevenJ's picture

StevenJ

I used to frequently wake up at night in severe pain from a foot cramp. The only thing I could do was stand up and walk around for 15 minutes or so until the pain subsided. My wife heard something about Ivory soap placed at the foot of the bed...which apparently would prevent foot cramps. I scoffed at the idea, but allowed her to place the soap at the foot of the bed. Three months went by with another foot cramp. We replaced the soap after 3 months and now it has been 4 months without a single foot cramp. I do not know why soap works...but it does for me. I really doubt it is the power of the mind...because weeks would go by without me even thinking about foot cramps or Ivory soap. It was just after several months of not having any cramps...that I began to think about the soap. There were no other changes in my life (diet, exercise, stress, alcohol etc) that would account for the relief from the cramps.

15

creeper's picture

creeper

...is a terrible thing. Erica, you cannot claim to be a scientist with this kind of attitude. This is not "skeptism". It's complete denial. You are discouraging people from trying something that clearly works. Shame on you.

16

Sandy M's picture

Sandy M

Last night my feet kept cramping. I kept getting up and walking around and drinking water and it would not quit. After an hour and cramps had stopped totally in my right foot and all but the two small toes in my left foot. I then moved my left foot a little closer to the soap and the cramps disappeared there too! I could feel the pain just being pulled out of me. The problem then was that I could not sleep afterwards because I was in such amazement and kept trying to figure out how it could work! Needless to say, I am a true believer!

17

some words were left out - The cramps had been going on for an hour and a half. I then put a bar of Yardley English lavender under bottom sheet. After a MINUTE cramps had stopped totally in my right foot....

18

kenj's picture

kenj

I am the same way and felt the bar of soap was a placebo affect. I had heard about it years ago but never tried since I could not find any medical reason it would work. For the last 6 months my cramps which I was getting almost every night had gotten more frequent to as many as 6 times a night. As soon as I stand on my legs they go away. Tried Potassium, magnesium, calcium , no sugar no caffeine ate lots of fruits and vegetables, drank lots of water and tried various over the counter and on line medication for leg cramps and none worked. Not having any placebo affect and so not having any more things to try I tried what I thought was really stupid a bar of soap. Used a new bar of Jergens and of course it didn't work. Next night tried two bars and it didn't work. I then tried Olay thinking maybe I needed a different soap and my cramps got worse. I had around 10 minor cramps but pretty much kept me up all night. This certainly must be a placebo affect for those that think it works. My wife then bought me another soap which at first I said forget it but then tried it . For the first night in years I had no cramps. I looked at that soap package and it said it had lavender. I remember something about lavender in the soap but anyway I have no more cramps. I told my uncle who is a physician about it who said you know there is no scientific or any medical study that says it should work and then told me he uses a bar of soap also and still doesn't understand how it works but it does.

19

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