rows of yellow mustard on a store shelf

Leg cramps can strike out of the blue. One minute you are enjoying a bike ride or a hike and the next you are in excruciating pain.

Just ask Lebron James about Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Basketball Finals. The air conditioning went out in the San Antonio arena. Whether it was the heat, the humidity or the loss of fluids, his muscle cramps were incapacitating. So even an elite athlete can be laid low with leg cramps.

It’s hardly surprising that rest of us also suffer, especially at this time of year when we sweat a lot because of heat and humidity. Sometimes the cramps come on in the middle of exercise, but they can also strike hours later while we are fast asleep. Anyone who has ever experienced a charley horse in a big muscle in the middle of the night will tell you how disruptive it can be. Here are just a few stories to give you a sense of what this is like, in case you have never experienced such cramps yourself:

“I am totally sleep deprived. The muscle cramps can strike almost anywhere–my toes, calves, inner or outer thighs and my feet. The pain is sometimes so intense that the cramps bring tears to my eyes.” Doug

“I am plagued with leg cramps that can occur anywhere between my toes and my thighs. They can last anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour, during which time the pain is unbearable. Although they usually occur at night, I have sometimes had a cramp while driving, which is very dangerous because I can’t stretch it out.” J.K.

“My wife suffers terribly with nighttime leg cramps. They wake her (and me) out of a sound sleep. I have tried helping her with cold compresses, hot compresses, tonic water, massage, you name it. Nothing ever works. I hate to see her in such distress night after night.” Fred

There are no approved medications for leg cramps. Ask your doctor for a medication to relieve these muscle spasms, and you might get a blank stare. Although the FDA used to allow quinine for this purpose, the agency has since banned it because some people are extremely vulnerable to dangerous side effects. That leaves home remedies.

Over the last couple of decades we have collected lots of remedies for leg cramps. Here are just a few examples of stories from visitors to this website:

“I have suffered from terrible leg cramps for years, usually after strenuous outdoor activity including heavy perspiration.

“My tennis-playing teenage daughter once witnessed me in inconsolable pain and ran to the fridge for the bottle of yellow mustard. It’s like a miracle, because all other attempts to control the pain failed. I might add that I suffered both front and back cramps in my thighs that left me in tears for hours.

Thank goodness she had heard about this home remedy from a school coach. I will pass this simple cure to anyone who also suffers from this awful pain. My best guess is that I’m sweating out a vital chemical that bananas and Gatorade cannot replace quickly enough.” Sandy

“I don’t know the science behind the use of yellow mustard to relieve leg cramps but I do know that it works. I recently had a charley horse or upper leg cramp that was so bad that I was in tears. Usually putting some weight on the leg will help, but in this situation I could not even straighten my leg.

“I had heard of the mustard treatment from a friend, so I asked my wife to get me a teaspoonful. Within seconds of swallowing the mustard the cramp had gone.” Brian

“I have had great success preventing leg cramps using V-8 juice that I read about on this site. I have a small juice glass of V-8 everyday. I no longer wake up with leg cramps.” Bev

“I have been suffering excruciating leg cramps on and off for the last 6 months. They just start up for no reason, usually when I’m lying down.

“When I told my doctor, she suggested I drink tonic water because it has quinine in it. I didn’t think something as simple as that would work, as the pain is so severe, but sure enough it does stop the pain within seconds. I just keep sipping it until the pain goes away; usually about half of a small bottle does it for me.

“She said to drink a glass each day but I only have it when I need it and find it relieves the pain almost immediately. I always keep some small bottles in the house.” L.H.

“My leg cramps go on nightly, actually several times a night. They get me out of bed crying they hurt so bad.  So, last night, I took a chance and poured about a shot glass of dill pickle juice in a glass and drank it before I went to sleep. It was the first night I haven’t had a cramp in a couple of weeks.  I’m going to have to buy some more pickles now, and I’ll never throw pickle juice away again!” Jan

“Several years ago, I read your article about soap under the sheets, and used it with positive results. While changing linens, the soap fell out after several months and I didn’t think I’d need ‘the cure’ any longer.

“I recently had been suffering from extremely severe leg cramps night and day and thought it was a part of my fibromyalgia. Then I remembered the soap, replaced it and overnight I felt 95% better.” Patricia

“Several years ago, my mother who was 84 years young, shared with me the soap ‘cure’ for night time leg cramps.

“I respectfully asked, ‘And just what kind of scientific principle do we have working here?’ She just said, ‘Go ahead and laugh, it works!’

“I’m a type II diabetic and have long suffered from occasional cramps that were excruciatingly painful, especially ones that affect the front of the shin. They literally bring tears to my eyes.

“I didn’t give my mother’s words of wisdom much thought for quite a while. Arriving back home, almost two months went by and it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t had a cramp for a long time. I mentioned it to my wife who smiled and asked, ‘Was it about the time when we came back from your Mom’s and I put the soap under the bottom sheet?’

“Sure enough, she had placed a sliver of ‘used’ soap under the sheet and voila, no cramps. That was six years ago and the only cramps I’ve had are when the soap dries out and I replace it doggone fast!

“Nothing had changed in my diet, lifestyle or bedroom, except the soap. To you skeptics, it may not work for you, so don’t do it; no need to rain on someone else’s parade unless you’re just plain mean-spirited.” T.J.

There are lots of skeptics out there when it comes to soap stories. But sometimes even the skeptics are convinced:

“I have been suffering from severe violent leg cramps that seize up my muscles, usually the inner thigh but sometimes the calves as well. They cause me to cry out in pain, wake me up and make me walk/dance around for awhile until they finally subside. They also make my legs feel sore the next day, as if I had exercised strenuously.

“When I heard about the soap remedy, I was skeptical. All the same, I bought a couple of bars and put them between the sheets. Presto! No more cramps for about a month now. It does, indeed, defy logic but it works. Perhaps someday we’ll discover the mystery of why.” D. Levine

If you would like to read a more detailed analysis about the controversy over soap in the bed, Derek Page posted a thoughtful essay and a hypothesis about the possible mechanism on our website.

We know that soap will not work for everyone. People have told us they were quite disappointed when it didn’t do the trick. Neither mustard, V-8 Juice nor tonic water is a panacea. What works well for one person may not do anything for another. That is true not only of home remedies but also pricey prescription drugs.

We have created two products for people to try, “Bed Soap” and “Leg Soap.” Unlike regular bar soap, the People’s Pharmacy Bed Soap is bigger and flatter so it is not uncomfortable in bed. It also has a light lavender scent to help facilitate sleep (research has shown that lavender is a sleep promoter: Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, June, 2014).

We have also heard from many people who put soap in their socks.

“The cramps from which I suffer travel no further than my feet and have at times been almost unbearably painful. Putting the soap inside each bed sock seemed a logical way of directly targeting the problem area (and I didn’t want to waste a drop of ammunition against these rotten little so and so’s!)

“Whether this hypothesis is ever elevated to the status of theory or is debunked and treated with scorn by researchers will not alter the fact that from the very first night I put soap inside my bed socks, I have been cramp-free.” G.N.F.

“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. Every time, when using a sliver of any kind of soap in each sock, they keep the leg cramps away.

“When I have forgotten to do this, I have often had these cramps. Getting up and putting the slivers in my socks always stops the cramps within a minute or two. Otherwise the cramps may remain for long periods of time.” L.P.

“I noticed that Corn Huskers Lotion has a high glycerin content. When I get leg cramps at night after a day of vigorous exercise, I have rubbed this all over my legs, and the cramps go away. I let it dry and climb back into bed and am not awakened with cramps again that night.

“I keep soap chips with me in the car because I sometimes get leg cramps on my shins when driving. When I stretch my legs, the cramps just move to the unstretched part. When I put soap on the cramping part, the cramp goes away and doesn’t come back (I put it in my sock).” K.A.F.

We created Leg Soap several years ago to make it easy to get the pre-cut chips to fit smoothly into socks. We came up with the idea after we heard from a listener to our radio show who had restless leg syndrome (RLS). She suffered terribly on long international airplane flights and came up with the idea of putting soap chips in her socks to help her survive the long trips. That’s when we decided to make it easier for people by creating Leg Soap.

We are offering a special opportunity. For the next month, anyone who buys either Bed Soap or Leg Soap will get a free copy of Graedons’ Guide to Leg Pain. This $3 value is yours free with each order of People’s Pharmacy Bed or Leg Soap. In it you will learn about lots of other leg cramp remedies and special exercises to reduce the risk of muscle cramps, as well as nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins to prevent cramps. There are also details about the dangers of quinine. Finally, you will learn about various approaches to dealing with restless leg syndrome (RLS), the creepy, crawly feeling that can drive some people to distraction. More details about Bed and Leg Soap at this link.

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  1. Mabotse
    South Africa Gauteng

    I need help with severe leg and foot cramps.tried everything and I’m tired.Will try the soap and see.

  2. Sandy
    Las Vegas, NV

    I just tried tried this and it worked immediately! I can’t believe it! I have been experiencing night cramps in my calves and feet the last week or so. This morning they were continuing and were so painful I started searching the web for a solution and found People’s Pharmacy.

    Thank you so much for your website! I am ordering the soap chips also because yesterday I was leaving for work and my leg and calve were still cramping terribly as I walked out the door. Next time I will just slip a soap chip inside my shoe or sock and I will be good to go!

  3. LARRY

    I have had leg cramps and found the best way to stop them when you feel them coming on is to take your thumb and forefinger and to squeeze the area where the nose meets the upper lip as hard as you can and hold it and the pain will go away. It sounds crazy but it works my brother read this in and old book he had and I thought he was fooling around until I had to try it [good luck]

  4. Joni
    Homer, Alaska

    Wonder if powdered (laundry) soap in the socks would work? Or does it have to be a sliver of bar soap? Does brand make a difference?

  5. Barry
    Nevada City, Ca

    I can testify to the severe and un bearable pain of leg cramping. Almost always at night.
    I’m in the Philippines now, during the hottest month of the year with humidity of 100% every day, and I defiantly see a pattern. The days I sweat the most I can change my wet shirts 8 times a day while working. Even though I feel I drink enough water to hydrate myself, I’m losing the important minerals and chemicals, and wham, I get those terrible relentless leg cramps.
    This article is a Godsend to me. Now I will try to find some V8 juice, Magnesium pills, re supply mustard, and I already have tonic water, and of course, bar soap.
    Thank you!!

  6. John

    Thank you.
    I don’t know what will work for me. I woke up today and to my horror my right inner thigh cramped so bad I did it know what to do. I could barely move. I looked like a fish out of water I was trying so many positions to make it stop. I had never had this happen to my leg before. I had no choice but to ride it out for almost 10 min. Soon as it stopped I started searching for a cure or remedy. I don’t know why this happened all I know is I will try anything next time so thank you for all different choices.

  7. Mariam
    Auckland, New Zealand

    Hi, will try these remedies for my daughter. Thank you.

    • Terrill

      Bennidryl works.

  8. jojo s

    I too have these horrible thigh spasms. They are so painful I can’t move when I get them and make me cry out in pain. I can be anywhere and get them in a car on a bus out and about or in bed. I have to be careful getting out of bed. I will certainly try some of these remedies and pray that one of them works. Thank you for your help.

  9. Jill

    When you say yellow mustard what is that? English mustard is yellow but much stronger than french mustard which is also yellow!
    So can someone be clear about what kind of mustard.

  10. Mari S.

    Magnesium oil spray (available online and through some health/vitamin stores) stops leg cramps almost instantly. It’s also a preventive if sprayed on regularly before going to bed. The spray is good for people who aren’t able to take magnesium pills because of digestive disturbances. It is also available as a liquid that can be massaged into the skin. It’s not really an oil. Though it feels oily, it is really concentrated sea water. You can even make your own (search for directions online).

  11. DO

    I’ve used 2 or 3 small pieces of soap in various spots between my sheets for quite a few years. I also take 500 mg of Magnesium daily. Most nights I don’t get any cramps. But, if I do, I grab a small piece of soap and
    hold it (if it’s a small area) or slide it up and down my leg (if a larger cramping area.) The cramp subsides very quickly. Sometimes I’ll take a piece of paper towel and hold the soap in place with some scotch tape for
    the rest of the night, to make sure it doesn’t re-occur. Works every time.
    This would seem to be similar to soap in the socks, except that when I get a cramp it’s not in an area that socks could cover.

  12. vaag

    Leg cramps might be the start of A.L.S. Better get checked out soon.

  13. Selma

    I used to get leg cramps quite often and tried the soap remedy. It worked fairly well for me but once in a while I would feel a cramp coming on – which always seemed to happen when I moved my legs in the early morning while still in bed. To stop the cramp from forming, I would immediately pull my toes up towards my knee and the cramp would stop ‘dead in its track’. I decided to try a preventative way to stop the cramps from forming. I figured that if stretching out the muscle stops the cramp, why not stretch my legs each night before I go to bed. I hold on to a night table and stretch each leg one at a time, while slowly counting to 20. When stretching, you have to feel the pull in the calf muscle. Voila, it works! My leg cramps have disappeared.

  14. Angela R

    I used to get very severe muscle cramps, calves and thighs simultaneously, sometimes on both legs. Very painful, I made a lot of noise, know what I mean? I used 2 tspoons of mustard each night. One night, the cramps were so severe, even 4 tspoons didn’t help. I went on Youtube and 4 professionals advised taking magnesium. It’s a muscle relaxer. I now take 500 mg magnesium, only at night. Sometimes, the cramps start, but they go away very soon, as though the good fairy has chased them away. Good luck to all. People who’ve never experienced them have no idea what they feel like. It feels like the devil is twisting your muscles the way we ladies used to twist the laundry. The more you move, the more they hurt. Magnesium.

  15. Mary

    While magnesium may not help everyone, I strongly suspect most of us are deficient in it.
    I take it daily and while not always successful, if I forget, it will be worse that night.
    I have seen recommendations of taking a dose up to the point where magnesium gives diarrhea, then back off to where it stops.
    I have seen a similar recommendation for maximum Vitamin C dosages as well.
    I never took that much of either although it may be a good way to determine the maximum for a particular person.

  16. j.p.

    Had a T.I.A. about a year ago. Now walk 2 mi/day and take Lipitor–10mg. After a while started getting leg cramps @ night. Lowered my Lipitor to 5mg. Leg cramps are GONE. Plus a sleep more deeply. My Cholesterol count is well below 200 so I am not concerned about the lower dosage.

  17. fbl

    My hubby gets leg cramps occasionally at night but I give him magnesium tablets and it works quickly. I try to get him to take it on a regular basis.

  18. Carolyn

    My husband has been suffering from severe leg cramps. The mustard helped but he never tried taking it to prevent the cramps. The soap did not help. What did help was his increased intake of water. When he remembers to drink 4 16 oz bottles of water a day, he does not have the cramps.

  19. Sharon

    I suffered with cramps for 50 years, until I started taking magnesium. Gone, unless I skip a dose or do anything that sucks up magnesium from your system, such as stress, and some medications. Cortisone injections for hip bursitis caused 5 days of agony, nearly ruined a trip with my grandson. Magnesium works if you want a permanent solution and don’t enjoy mustard!

    • Kathleen
      san fernando calif 91430

      Worked hard for years pickle juice first choice or

      white or apple cider or red my daughter played socker for university when girls got leg cramps coach gave vinegar and I promise you and god knows this works immediatly plug your nose swallow very harsh flush with strong glass of oj or your juice of choice and a glass of water behind atleast half and you wont have pain immediatly plus it does your kidney good. And its wont hurt once in a while. I wish you much relief as its given me. Best wishes Kathleen Mercedes

  20. Joan C

    I use to get Leg & Foot Cramps at night & while sitting for a long period. I started taking a potassium pill daily & now I hardly ever get them.

  21. marjorie

    I have never heard of the mustard cure for leg cramps or the tonic water cure but I will certainly carry both with me in my car and do always have them at home. Bananas have always worked well for me!
    My favorite Peoples Pharmacy cure is Archway Coconut cookies for diarrea. Normally 1 small cookie does the trick for babies, small children, me and oh yes evan my dogs. I gave 1 to my daughters Beagle when she had a bout and it did the trick. While her vet didn’t approve and accusing me of giving Josie( the Beagle) more sugar than she needs in her whole life, it stopped the problem immmediately and was super easy to administer without any discernable side effets.

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