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. Dianna K

    I have not had many issues with leg cramps until this past year. My brother has had them, and told me about the soap thing, and how it worked for him. I tried it with some success in the lower leg but not with my thighs…. With the inner thigh cramps that seemed to wrap themselves around the leg or thru the pelvic area and into the other leg as well, nothing seemed to work or took what felt like forever to work. I do not remember where I heard about the mustard working to stop the cramps so I tried it and it helped some, so I tried it again, but this time I accidently squirted a really big glob of the stuff in my mouth . Within minutes the cramps started to subside. I was so relieved. I have been using it ever since, making sure I take about 2 Tablespoons of the stuff. I am not particularly fond of the flavor of mustard, but now keep a supply on hand, and packets in my work bag. It really works well for me.

  2. Cary
    Savannah, GA

    This actually works, not kidding. After several years of excruciating inner thigh cramps, they recurred tonight. I fell onto the bed, writhing in pain. I also noticed that compressing the muscle with my hands relieved the pain.
    During bicycling, I wear broad elastic/Velcro knee braces…so I crawled to the next room and wrapped the knee brace around my thigh.
    It seems to prevent the pain from recurring! The first effort that ever brought relief…and immediately, C

  3. Cindy Black

    I love reading all these comments. There’s so much wrong with the internet, but so much right also — and this represents the best of the “rights.” Power to the People! and Power to the Peoples Pharmacy! Cheers, Cindy

  4. Marcia

    I used to have terrible night time leg/foot cramps. I started taking Magnesium twice daily to help reduce insomnia and found out that my leg cramps totally went away!!! I have found that Magnesium helps just about everything!

  5. Nancy
    Conover, N C----

    Here is a new thing I am concerned with. I have had gout since early June. It is so much eased-up now, but my feet are still tender and very swollen. The gout had gotten me for fairly brief periods, previously, but it went away within several days. I’d recently had my diahretic perscription doubled by the cardio-dr. After a couple months of constant gout, I read that diahretics taken regularly could (or would?) bring on the gout!!! I immediately stopped taking it…The gout has improved since then, but I’d really like to have my feet back to their pre-gout condition. Any ideas? I am taking cherry capsuels and celery seed….

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