Sometimes a remedy defies logic. Usually there’s no science to support it either. That’s has been the case when it comes to putting a bar of soap under the bottom sheet to stop leg cramps or restless legs.

One reader (who happens to have doctorates in biomedical engineering and physics) took us to task for suggesting this remedy. He asked, “What is the mechanism of action for a bar of soap under your sheets for relieving any type of pain? Answering that this is anything but an old wives’ tale discredits everything you have done in the name of science.

“As a fellow scientist and university faculty member, I feel it is your responsibility to educate your readers using accepted scientific principles. When you do not, you are performing a disservice to the rest of us.

“What’s next? ‘We have heard from many readers that it helps to have a leprechaun in your pocket when looking for gold at the end of the rainbow, and we can’t see how it would hurt.'”

We can’t pretend that soap under the sheet is anything more than a folk remedy. We can’t explain exactly how it would work, and we don’t know for sure that it does. Nonetheless, we have been impressed with readers reporting success.

One wrote: “I’ve been a long-time sufferer of sciatica.  Recently, I was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease resulting in tarsal tunnel syndrome in my left foot. The pain was nearly unbearable. After your column on the soap mystery, I could not believe it but I thought I have little to lose.

“I keep the bar of soap underneath my sheets all the time. It’s been over a month, and I’ve been noticing much less pain and more energy. I shared the article with a co-worker who also is benefiting. Her sister, a nurse, is puzzled by this.”

Their training may predispose nurses to be cautious: “Being a nurse, I was VERY skeptical about the soap remedy. Statin medicines give me leg cramps. I decided the bar of soap could do no harm. It worked the very first night and has continued to work for the past three months. I can’t figure out how it can possibly help, but it does.”

Another reader found a bar of soap more helpful than prescription pain relievers: “I had an unsuccessful replacement of my right knee 18 months ago and my left thigh suffers from meralgia paresthetica (thigh nerve pain).

“The bar of soap works wonders. The pain in both legs almost disappears when I go to bed. I tried to do without soap one night and after about 30 minutes of tossing and turning I put the bar back under the sheet to relieve the pain.

“I have to replace the soap about every two months to stay pain free. I said good-bye to Celebrex and Mobic, which were not easing the pain.”

Leg cramps can be extremely painful and there are no drugs approved to treat them. 

We have received some fascinating suggestions about possible explanations for the soap remedy. If you would like to read more, Here is a link to: “How Soap In The Bed Eases Leg Cramps–A Hypothesis.”

If you would like to read “The Best Soap Story Ever,” click on this link.

And if you would like to know which soap cuts cramps best, here is the answer.

Anyone who is fascinated by such oddball remedies may be interested in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remdies (from National Geographic).

Our rule of thumb with such remedies is, if they won’t hurt and might help and are inexpensive, why not give them a try? We can’t explain the soap remedy, but doctors can’t explain how many prescription drugs work, either.

And if you would like to sign up for our free weekly electronic newsletters, where you will learn about the latest amazing home remedies, the latest drug breakthroughs or warnings, just go to the upper right hand corner of this home page and put your email address into the box below SUBSCRIPTIONs and under the Facebook and Twitter icons. Then click join.

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  1. MV
    Reply

    Does liquid soap work too? I don’t like bar soap.

  2. LL
    Reply

    I sleep with the soap under my bottom sheet, and I have not had cramps since — except for nights when the bar of soap has worked its way down and dropped to the floor as I’m sleeping. On those nights, I have been awakened with painful leg or foot cramps.
    So placebo seems extremely unlikely to me — I went to sleep, after all, believing that the soap was “protecting” me from cramps, and that belief should’ve sustained me through the night. It’s not like I’m consciously touching the soap every time I change position in bed.

  3. Melissa
    Reply

    As scientists, surely you’ve heard of the placebo effect?

  4. jaster
    Reply

    I tried it for 3 weeks with many types of soap and it did nothing for me. I think it’s the placebo effect. Your brain controls everything even pain and if it chooses it can shut it off. We don’t have control of that unless we trick it. Unfortunately some of us are too aware of ourselves to do so.

  5. Ren
    Reply

    Is it possible the relief is due to the placebo effect? Even if you say to yourself that it won’t work, there is a subconscious hope that it will?
    I’m having a hard time believing that there is no way, who came across this article, and has had no symptom relief at all. Also, I’d be worried about the chemicals used in soaps. Unless homemade or organic, soaps are full of chemicals you really don’t want to come in contact with.

  6. PLM
    Reply

    I was diagnosed with RLS, now Willis-Ekbom Disease, in 1998. For many miserable years before that I suffered greatly with RLS. Reading a book was impossible, sleep was two hours here, an hour there. In short, my life seemed hardly worth continuing.
    I tried every single thing that I read about or which was suggested I try, including the soap under the sheets. Nothing helped.
    About 1999 I was given Mirapex by my sleep disorder doctor. It worked. For the first time in years I got a good night’s sleep.
    I still take it, haven’t had to up the dose and am so grateful for this drug. It’s as though I don’t have RLS. But if I miss a dose, I am quickly reminded that I still have RLS. It’s just the symptoms I don’t have.

  7. Bill H., Colorado
    Reply

    Yep. It works. I got the first good sleep in quite a while. Tonight, I am going to slip a piece of soap (in a sock, because it doesn’t drift much) near my wife, who suffers with sciatica. If it works for her, I’ll know something for sure. Among the many things we don’t undertsand, this one is well worth looking into.

  8. mike
    Reply

    I really did not believe this would work. I have heard you talk about it many times and heard others stories but did not believe it. I’m a 49 year old the body of a 96 year old that lived a very hard life.
    I have been in pain literally from head to toe for 15 + years now. 5 ruptured discs, scoliosis, arthritis in every joint. Degenerative disc and joint disorders and last year diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (My reflex nerves are dying) due to improper treatment when initially injured. Over the years they have tried every medication available for My problems, done many MRI’s and nothing has helped.
    The side affects of many of those meds have led to other severe problems and some of the off label ones they tried nearly killed me. They could not even get my blood pressure under control with any available med. For several years I have been researching and trying folk remedies and finally got my blood pressure normal after years of hovering around 200. and many other things I have found to work for other problems.
    So finally last night I tried this. I still thought it was Hooey but I thought what the hell it doesn’t cost anything. I have not slept more than a few minutes at a time for years as I have to change positions every few minutes.
    Last night I slept through the night for the first time. I put a bar of ivory between the sheets at my feet and another in a sock and placed it under my back. I know it sounds uncomfortable but it wasn’t not compared to my norm. at 3 a.m. I moved it to my neck and went right back to sleep.
    When I got up this morning at dawn I prepared myself for the usual screaming pain in my feet legs and lower back when I stood but it didn’t come! Yes there is still pain but this is only 1 night and the reduction of pain is amazing and I did not think even for a minute it would work so it is no placebo effect. I have now been up for 7 hours and have not needed my usual traction on my neck and feel good. This makes no sense! I still can’t wrap my head around it but at this point I don’t care. I just hope it continues to work.

  9. Ria G.
    Reply

    working as a nurse in a nursing home walking on concrete floors for 8 hours I suffered from feet cramps badly, a lady resident suggested to put a bar of soap in between the bed sheets, I laughed at first but I had nothing to loose so yes the soap was placed in between the sheets, WOW unbelievable it works, I was away on holidays for 4 weeks recently and forgot to bring along a cake of soap and about 3am I jump out of bed as my feet was cramping badly, next day the first thing I did was buy a cake of soap, and unbelievable no more cramps. don’t know how it works but it does work.

  10. LOU M
    Reply

    I too was skeptical–being a retired pharmacist.. all I can come up with is that while soap may be alkaline in nature, & lots of muscle pain may be due to a build up of lactic acid, perhaps the soap may have an equalizing effect–anyhow, after a few days, the pain in my legs began to lessen up & now is almost gone…. maybe I should rub some on my back.. anyone try this yet?

  11. JN
    Reply

    Ironically, the first time I ever tried this I got a charley horse in my right calf and I haven’t had that in forever! Ahh! But, I’m going to keep trying it and see how I feel.

  12. MC
    Reply

    It works great. My mom’s friend told her. I have arthrits (JRA) and after one night I became a believer.

  13. Tony
    Reply

    And how many people have tried this and seen no effect? What is the effect of confirmation bias here?

  14. Denise
    Reply

    A friend of my daughter’s suggested putting a bar of soap in my sock before going to bed at night. Needless to say I was VERY skeptical! I’ve been suffering from heels spurs to the point of barely being able to walk. My podiatrist prescribed Mobic and a shot which has had no effect. So….I tried the silly bar of soap. I woke up with a very slight amount of pain. Had I not tried it, I would have NEVER believed it! I’m going to be sleeping with soap from now on. What do I have to lose? Pain! Try it! Denise

  15. REDS
    Reply

    After returning to work (I retired) I was
    on my feet for 8 hours. At night I got toe
    cramps, I tried the bar of soap in my
    bed, by the third night I didn’t need it.
    Should the cramps come back, I’ll take
    the soap to bed with me. Ruth

  16. SM
    Reply

    There is a very scientific word for this. It is called placebo effect. Nothing more.

  17. judy b
    Reply

    I AM A BELIEVER IN THE SOAP–MY LEGS CRAMPED SO BAD AT NIGHT I COULD NOT EVEN WALK THE NEXT DAY. THEY WERE BRUISED AND SWOLLEN FROM THE CRAMPS. I WAS BUYING SOME USED APPLIANCES FROM A LADY AND SHE ASKED WHY I WAS LIMPING- -I TOLD HER ABOUT THE CRAMPS. SHE TOLD ME ABOUT THE SOAP. I HAD TRIED OVER THE COUNTER MEDS BUT THEY MADE ME VERY SLEEPY AND I COULD NOT GO TO WORK. THE FIRST NIGHT, THE SOAP WORKED AND IT HAS BEEN WORKING FOR 10 MONTHS. NO MORE TEARS IN THE MORNING BECAUSE I CANT STRAIGHTEN MY LEGS. NO MORE SWOLLEN LEGS. IT IS GREAT AND A VERY CHEAP REMEDY.

  18. Penny
    Reply

    I am 27 weeks pregnant and began having cramps in my legs a few weeks ago nightly. It was awful!!!
    Anyway my grandmother heard me talking about this and told me to put a bar of soap under my sheets down near me feet. So as crazy as I thought she was I did it because I was at the point of anything to get out of the pain I was dealing with. I have never had anther cramp since. I am still amazed that this works and really wish I knew why but I am happy that this info was shared with me.:)

  19. linda
    Reply

    My one leg was bothering me,so I tried placing a bar of soap under the bottom sheet. It seemed to work. I then placed two bars of soap inside my pillowcase,one on each side,for my shoulder and neck pain and it seems to have somewhat relieved the pain and discomfort. My husband has a problem with restless legs and I’ve convinced him to try it. I will let you know if it worked for him.

  20. carol
    Reply

    I had severe hip and leg pain about 1 month ago. I went to an orthopedic dr. He did xrays and stated that I had a pinched nerve. I took steroids for a week, muscle relaxer and a few sleeping pills to relieve the terrible almost unbearable pain. Went back to the Dr. 10 days later and he ordered a MRI. I go back to the dr. next week for the results.
    Last week my mother called and said she had severe cramps and pain in her feet several years ago. She said she had read an article in a magazine about putting a bar of soap under the bedsheet. I did this Saturday, and when I got up Sunday morning the pain was gone. I had a little tiny pain last evening, but when I got up this morning, it was gone. I truly believe this has helped so much. It does work. All the pain I was in was the worst pain I have ever had and I feel so much better each day.
    Thank you MOM for letting me know about this. Wish I had known before I spent all the money on doctors visits, medicine and MRI. I could have saved a lot of time, money and gotten rid of the pain much sooner.

  21. nj n carolina
    Reply

    I asked my doctor about my leg cramps, and he suggested for me to try the soap under the sheet. It worked. Only 3 leg cramps in 6 months instead of multiple times per day. I have also rubbed soap on the actual cramp and gotten immediate relief. I used Irish Spring and change bars when the frangrance wears off. Personally I think it has something to do with the fragrance. I believe!

  22. Linda A
    Reply

    Two months ago, I was out of my quinine tablets that I have been using for foot and leg cramps. I just gave up and decided that I would try the soap bars under the bottom sheet as you had suggested, and OMG it worked within thirty seconds. Now why, as a RNP, I have abosutely no idea. But if it works, it works!!!

  23. Jo Ann
    Reply

    I put the soap in a sock. I sleep with several as I have firbomyalgia and hurt all over. When my shoulders and neck are really bothering me I wear the sock on my shoulder all day. It really does work. When I tell people about it they think I am crazy. My youngest daughter thought I was nuts. She told her mother-in-law, “can you believe my mother sleeps with a bar of soap in the bed?” She said, “so do I, it keeps me from having Charlie Horses.”
    The old saying is true, Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

  24. PB
    Reply

    I’ve had restless leg for the last four years. I have terrible cramps in the middle of the night… I tried a thin bar of soap from a hotel, and it works. I haven’t had any pain or problems sleeping for a month. Thanks so much. PB

  25. ck
    Reply

    I have had restless leg syndrome for years… it got worse every night… couldn’t sleep… Finally tried the bar of soap under the sheet… i haven’t had RLS in 4 weeks. It’s amazing! I am so happy I found out about this. I can finally sleep now at night. Everyone who has RLS should really try this. I also keep a bar under my pillow, and when I get nervous, and sleepless, I rub it with my hand… and then I fall asleep. I am using Oil of Olay–that’s what I had. To me, this is the greatest thing I have ever tried, and it’s cheap. And you don’t need to see a doctor…

  26. Laura
    Reply

    I have legs cramps so bad I can hardly stand them. One of my customers told me about the soap remedy. Last night , while on the computer, my legs started cramping so bad, that I just could not continue to sit there. Remembering her telling me this , I went and got a new bar of Safeguard from the bathroom cabinet and just held it to the back of the calf of my leg. Within a minute the cramps stopped. I was amazed. Applied it to the other leg and same results. Also, my arm was in a sling due to having messed it up in a fall. So what’s to lose…I put the bar of soap inside the sling against the painful area and my arm also stopped hurting. No science needed to make me a believer!

  27. Ana
    Reply

    I have been living with ever worsening pain in my legs. I get such severe cramps at night, that I get anxious just thinking about going to bed. I know the chances are good that I will wake up screaming.
    It got worse about 9 months ago when I began waking up with my left leg achy, stiff and feeling extremely swollen, although it wasn’t swollen at all. The discomfort persisted all day long, not just night time and it severely affected my mobility.
    I got advice of all kinds — take more calcium, magnesium and potasium. Take quinine. Exercise before bedtime, don’t exercise before bedtime. My doctor wanted to do MRI for pinched nerves and to put me on Lyrica. Nothing worked and the MRI showed nothing!
    Then last week, my sister-in-law told me about the soap under the sheets. At any other time I would have told her to cut back on the sauce! But I was in such discomfort and so depressed about how it was limiting my activities that I decided to try it. What did I have to lose.
    Well after the first night, the pain went away and the swollen feeling and stiffness decreased dramatically. No Cramps! After one week I’m able to sleep comfortably, walk normally and the pain is hardly present. My husband feels it’s all a placebo effect but I know differently.
    As to the so-called scientific community, here’s my challenge. Instead of scoffing at how unscientific this treatment is, these PhDs should be lining up 6 deep to research it — what makes so many Non-PhDs tout the unscientific phenomena.
    A while back, penicillin was just a mold used widely by “folk doctors”. It wasn’t until scientists took it seriously enough to test it and find out what made it such a good “folk medicine” that penicillin, and consequently the other -cillins, became widely available. Today’s science fiction often becomes tomorrows scientific “discovery”. Science is not limited to the known; it’s not static. On the contrary, a large part of science is that questioning curiosity about why something appears to be working when it shouldn’t — the inquisitiveness that makes a doctor a good scientist. Think outside the box, Mr. Doctor of Biomedical Engineering and Physics — prove us all wrong! I dare you!

  28. joann
    Reply

    Just want to add my own experience about soap under the sheet. I am 40 something and have had leg cramps for years nothing has worked until 2 nites ago I tried the bar of soap. the nite before I tried it I was up 12 times with severe leg cramps from top of my legs to my foot and in agony. I put the soap under the sheet the following nite and have slept thru the nite for the past 2 nites NO CRAMPS. Don’t know why or how and don’t really care as long as it works.

  29. Florence Mills
    Reply

    I would just like to say that I am a believer in the soap under the sheet controversy. I have had restless legs for a long time, especially in bed at night. When I tried the soap I have not had any problem. I have been using it for a few months. I told my daughters to try it. Can’t do without it.

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