Q. I suffer from muscle cramps in my fingers and toes. It happens often during the day. I sometimes have cramps in other muscles as well. Please help!

A. Many readers tell us a bar of soap can ease muscle cramps almost anywhere on the body. Here is one such story: “My left hand was cramping badly. My fingers were twisting and the pain was unbearable. I searched ‘hand cramps’ on the web, found your suggestion and held a bar of soap. It worked within two minutes and the cramp hasn’t returned.”

Another reader offered an unusual soap story:  “I am neither a liar nor a fool. I worked for 45 years in the medical profession. When I first read about the soap treatment I thought to myself ‘what crap.’

“Then one night when I couldn’t sleep because of numbness, not pain, in my toes (idiopathic neuropathy), I decided to try the soap thing. I took two small round bars of soap, the ones I collect when I go to hotels. I took off the plastic wrappers and stuck a bar into each sock.

“I slept like a baby! I recommended soap to a friend who gets leg cramps at night but it didn’t work for her. Instead she takes a small quantity of magnesium.

“Each of us is unique. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. I don’t know how or why the soap works and I don’t care. There are no side effects and it doesn’t cost me a cent. I’m trying my best to keep away from prescription medication for as long as I can.”

 There is some controversy among People’s Pharmacy readers as to the best brand of soap for this purpose. (We offer a special flat bar for the bed, but can’t claim it works better than other brands.) In addition to muscle cramps and nerve discomfort, many people report that soap can ease restless legs syndrome. Although it does not work for everyone, it is simple, inexpensive and has no side effects.

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  1. Candace Alman
    Bloomington, MN

    Irish Spring and Ivory soap bars have worked for me to offset muscle spasms. I get the Iridh Spring at the Dollar Store .. 2 for $1.00!

  2. MEG

    Concerning the types of soap to use: I suggest a hard bar….not Dove, which has cold cream. Just about any brand seems to work…..Dial, whatever. My scientific brother and I were very puzzled by the bar-of-soap-between-the-sheets working so well. There MUST be a chemical explanation. This is only a guess, but it kinda made sense to us. We’ve read that a highly acidic body causes inflammation and that inflammation causes many diseases of the body. PERHAPS the alkalinity in the soap helps neutralize systemically the hyperacidity in the body.

    I had foot and leg muscle spasms and all-day leg cramps, for which I took pain medicine. The first day after I slept w/the soap in my bed, the leg cramps were gone and only rarely does a foot
    spasm occur, at which time I grab a bar of soap and put it on my foot, and it stops.

    I know this is anecdotal, but something else has happened in my body that I attribute to the soap. For the past 3 years I have had a sebaceous cyst on my abdomen…about the size of a ripe olive and the skin above it was reddened to about the size of a half dollar. I had my doctor check it twice during the past 3 years, as well as my son who is also a physician, and they both said just to leave it alone unless it got bigger. I started “sleeping with soap” about 3 months ago, and 2 weeks ago as I was drying off after a shower, I noticed a change in the cyst. It is now as small as a small english pea and the red area above it is smaller than a pencil eraser. I have done nothing else different in my diet/routine/whatever and can only guess that it may be the soap (alkalinity) causing it to shrink.

    A bar of soap under my pillow has also stopped morning headaches. Headaches are caused by the blood vessels in your scalp contracting, probably caused by inflammation….only a guess, but
    something is working well.

    There have been doctors’ columns in the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel with them reporting many patients having positive results. Not everyone….but it’s worth a try…we’re all

    • Teresa

      Hi Meg. That’s rather fascinating. all of it. I think you and your brother are onto the basis of why it does work. I am going to try that under pillow idea for the occasional headaches i wake to. I have noticed that various brands of soap (for the RLS and leg/foot cramps) work in various degrees. I have also noticed that after a month or more, I need to switch out the soap for a new bar. I tried shaving them for a freshened-up surface and that would work for longer with Ivory. Then dissipate and no longer be effective. So, I would really like to know WHAT BRANDS you and others with long-term success are using. I had Safeguard, and now have Zest and both stopped doing their job after one or 2 months. I also, about the same time, cut my magnesium down , due to loose bowels. So that could be playing a part. But I’m going to try another brand, or hopefully one you and others can strongly reccommend. thanks!

  3. Gordon

    Ok, I have drinking that water every night now for almost a week, and still no more cramps. can the solution really be that simple?

  4. HG

    I used turmeric to control leg cramps for many months, and it worked pretty well. I had no idea of what dosage to use. But suddenly it has stopped working. Magnesium gives me diarrhea, so I can’t use that option. I don’t have a problem getting rid of the cramps, however: all I have to do is get up and walk around for a minute or two, and they go away. But I want something that will prevent them for happening in the first place. The only other option I see here is soap. I wish the people who say that soap worked for them would mention the brands they used since one of the comments above says that various soaps emit different chemicals.

  5. Susan Piper

    If restless legs are caused by a magnesium deficiency, hypnosis won’t help.

  6. Barbara

    You can stop restless legs with self hypnosis. I had used self hypnosis for joint or muscle pain and it worked. I got rid of my care for good. I used hypnosis off and on and it always worked. One night my legs wanted to move, I’d never experienced this before. So I used self hypnosis and stopped it. The next night I had a little bit of restless legs again so I used self hypnosis again, That was ten years ago and I have not had restlegs since, but if I did I would use self hypnosis. I recommend it. You have to find a competent, honest psychologist who will teach you in ONE session. If he or she charges $150 an hour, that is all it will cost you. And your session should be recorded for you to listen to at home.
    You will be taught to hypnotize your self, it is a form of deep relaxation. It use it to lower my blood pressure now. If more people would use self hypnosis, the drug companies would be the ones having the pain as fewer people would be popping pills.

  7. Susan P

    I started taking magnesium supplements several years ago for restless legs and for foot and leg cramps after reading that most of us are deficient in magnesium due to modern farming methods. When I started getting cramps in my hands, my naturopath told me to add 500 mg of calcium. I take one dose of CalMag Citrate once a day which gives me 500 mg of calcium and 200 mg of magnesium I add another 240 mg of magnesium glycinate at bedtime. For me there seems to be a fine line between not enough magnesium to control the RLS and cramps and too much which gives me diarrhea. I had to experiment to get the right balance. Soap never did work for me, and waking up to eat mustard in the middle of the night sounds awful.

  8. GG

    I have suffered with leg and foot cramps for years, and like others, was skeptical about the soap treatment, but tried it anyway. It worked for many months and then suddenly didn’t. I placed new soap bars under the sheet, but didn’t help.
    After waking up in the middle of the night with painful cramps, and also getting them in the morning when putting on my socks or slippers, I would get them again. I finally asked my daughter, who is a registered nurse in Canada, about this.
    She suggested I drink a cup or two of water, just plain ordinary water, at bedtime and again when I wake up. Lo and behold, that worked, but has not yet been tested over the long haul. I’ll let you know how that works out.

  9. cberding

    This remedy works every time for me too! I did not have any luck with the soap, but the mustard works within minutes. I occasionally get “restless arm” in the large muscles of my upper arms. The mustard works for those symptoms too.

  10. E.L.

    I have tried the soap and mustard. I have done stretching before bed and countless other remedies suggested. The only thing that worked for a few months was the liquid Glycerin massaged into the foot and leg. After complete knee replacement in the left leg last March, only that leg has the RLS symtoms. Before the surgery it was both legs at once or just the right or just left! Now I am on Ropinirole, 1mg. and take 3 a half hour before bed. If within an hour that doesn’t work then I add one LDOPA-CDOPA 100-25 oral. That works within 20 min. I am so grateful. I have had RLS since early teens and am now a very active and healthy 71. In the “old” days it was called growing pains and was believable since I grew quite tall for a mere girl!

  11. so

    Due to back problems, I used to sleep on one side with my legs curled up. Upon waking, my legs would cramp horribly. I tried all the home remedies… bar of soap in the sheets, ingesting yellow mustard, etc. Nothing worked. I felt that the pain may have been due to the fact that my legs were curled all night. So I then tried sleeping on my side with my legs extended and placing a pillow between my legs to avoid pressure and pain in my back. To my surprise, this worked. I have had no leg cramps in months.

  12. RR

    I told my podiatrist about my toe cramps both during the day and at night. He commented that a great percentage of cramps are caused by inadequate hydration. Now I carry a bottle of water with me and drink at the first sign of a cramp. It is usually gone within a few minutes. I have been getting less cramps since I have been careful to drink more water during the day.

  13. Kathy

    I’ve read about putting soap under your sheets to help with leg cramps many times on your fantastic website. I kind of laughed at the idea until recently I had several episodes in one night that woke me up with terrible leg cramps. They continued for three more nights and remembered the soap under the sheets solution. I did that and have not had one leg cramp since. NOT ONE!!!! There will always be soap under my sheets now.

  14. GCMS-guy

    I have personally tested hand soaps for volatile chemicals and know that they all emit many chemicals but the mix changes from brand to brand. If there is an effect on humans, it is just a matter of chemistry and pharmacology–no black magic.

  15. CK

    I have found that when I get those horrible toe cramps I swallow a teaspoon of regular prepared yellow mustard (I chase it with a few sips of water) and the cramps are gone within minutes.

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