by Derek H. Page

For ten years or so, there have been claims that nocturnal leg cramps can be alleviated by introducing a bar of soap into the bed. The evidence supporting these claims, while voluminous, is almost completely anecdotal. Medical professionals who contribute to this website believe, with a few exceptions, that there is no real effect. The apparently beneficial effects are either a consequence of using unreliable anecdotal evidence or are an example of the placebo effect. That is the stance of mainstream science according to the literature.

It is worthwhile to examine more closely why the medical community reacts in this way. I believe there are two major reasons. One comes from the training that all scientists receive. For many years it has been accepted that in the universe as we currently know it only three forces can act at a distance without the need for an intermediary medium. These forces are gravity, magnetism, and electricity (including electromagnetism). Scientists do not believe in extrasensory perception or telekinesis, because that would require postulating another force for which there is no evidence.

How then can soap at the bottom of the bed affect a cramp in the leg, since clearly none of these three forces are operating? Something must be physically transferred across the space between the soap and the source of pain in the leg. Since this seems improbable, it is concluded that the soap cannot be responsible for the beneficial effect observed. No further work is merited. The placebo effect is credited.

There is a second reason for the failure of the medical community to address this problem. Medical research is performed either in universities or in company laboratories. Universities get their funding from granting agencies. University professors would be loath to appear before a grant committee defending a research proposal to investigate an old wives’ tale. Soap at the bottom of the bed? It sounds like quackery.

On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies would have no interest in assigning the problem to their laboratories. It would be difficult to justify research on such an inexpensive product as soap. The return on investment is unlikely to be high. It seems that the only ones who would be interested in seeing this issue resolved are those presently suffering from nocturnal cramps! And they have no collective voice.

Finally, a word about the discrediting of anecdotal evidence by the medical community: Having worked for nearly a lifetime both in fundamental science and in the practical application of research work, I have to say that anecdotal evidence does not have zero value. Of course, it must be treated with caution and not used irresponsibly, but in my experience it can give useful hints about which avenues might be usefully explored. The very existence of anecdotal evidence is a sign that the field has not been adequately researched.

In conclusion, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that soap in the bed cures cramps. But then, neither do I believe it does not cure cramps. This is not a question of belief. It is a question of doing under controlled conditions the necessary experiments to test the hypothesis. In a previous article, I outlined a proposed experiment that might at least stimulate a professional academic to tackle this question. I am disappointed that a year later no one has reported having done this simple experiment.

I was pleased to read in the March 2014 issue of this website a response by Joe and Terry Graedon on the value of home remedies. The medical community would do well to take note of it.

PEOPLE’S PHARMACY PERSPECTIVE:

We thank Derek Page for his continued interest in this topic. He has an inquisitive mind and would like answers to some of life’s unusual questions. We too would love someone to undertake Derek’s proposed experiment.

In the meantime, we think a bar of soap under the bottom sheet is a low-tech, inexpensive and surprisingly safe strategy for combatting nighttime leg cramps…for some people (not everyone benefits). You can read some fascinating stories at this link.

 

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  1. LP
    Reply

    It didn’t seem as though putting soap in my bed worked well for me. I wear socks at night, both summer and winter, because of cold feet. Everytime, when using a sliver of any kind of soap, in each sock, they keep the leg cramps away from me. When I have forgotten to do this, I have often had these cramps. Getting up, and putting the slivers in my socks, always stop the cramps within a minute or two. Otherwise the cramps have remained for long periods of time, (before I learned better)…
    I have found several strange causes for the cramps, and those are drinking milk anytime during the day, or taking a calcium or magnesium tablet before bedtime. When using the soap, I never have cramps anymore, no matter if I had taken the tablets or drunk the milk.
    The soap slivers work perfectly for me, to keep the cramps away.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE:
    Anyone who would like precut soap chips that fit nicely in socks, go to this link:
    http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/bed-soap/

  2. Dom
    Reply

    My wife and I have also suffered from night time leg cramps, she more than I, we have been putting a bar of soap under the lower sheet for many many years and have had cramps on very rare occasions. For us it works very well. The soap is used in it’s original wrapping or box and replaced every few years as the box gets damaged.

  3. MMH
    Reply

    I was not a believer until the day I had hand cramps several times during the day. Finally in desperation, I just picked up a bar of soap and held it. Cramp gone! That was easy.
    Also, I’ve found that a tsp of yellow mustard also works.

  4. Sara
    Reply

    Well, I recently read in a medical article that our furniture (as well as other household items), emit gases; therefore, I guess soap would emit something helpful/useful, for those that it helps, in the relief of leg cramps!!! I bought mesh, drawstring bags at the dollar store to put the soap bars in so they do not get shoved or pushed off the bed.

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