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Can Soap Chips in Your Socks Ease Leg Cramps?

A reader who loves long hikes reports that putting soap chips in her socks prevents leg cramps. We have a possible explanation.
Can Soap Chips in Your Socks Ease Leg Cramps?
NICE FRANCE – MAY 11 2014: Marseille soap also called Savon de Marseille put up for sale at the market traditional soap made from vegetable oils under the same name produces for about 600 years

Leg cramps can be terribly painful. Athletes exercising in hot weather do all they can to avoid them, including sipping pickle juice. But ordinary mortals can get them, too, during daytime activities or in the middle of the night. Have you ever tried using soap chips to prevent muscle cramps? Some people find them very helpful. Here is a story from one reader who does.

Soap Chips to Ease Leg Cramps:

Q. I have always gotten feet and leg cramps. I carry soap chips in my backpack when taking long hikes, so if my legs cramp, I can slip chips in my socks. Driving long distances after such hikes can also give me leg cramps. Soap in my socks works great in both situations.

Except during the hot nights of summer, I wear socks to bed to keep my feet warm. I like to put soap pieces in my socks to prevent foot cramps at night. A regular magnesium supplement also helps.

A. You are not the only person to find that soap chips in your socks help to prevent leg cramps. Many other readers like this remedy.

Soap in Socks for Restless Legs:

We first heard about this idea as a way of managing restless legs. Years ago, a woman who was making frequent trans-Atlantic trips for business found that her restless leg syndrome (RLS) made the flights challenging. She was able to calm the creepy-crawly feelings and urges to move her legs by putting bits of soap in her knee socks. We’re always delighted when a remedy developed for one problem proves useful for another, so we’re glad to hear you use it for cramps.

How Could Soap Chips Be Helpful?

There are a number of hypotheses about what causes muscle cramps, but none of them seem to apply in every situation (Sports Medicine, Dec. 2019). Instead, several different imbalances or malfunctions may trigger cramps. We suspect that soap chips work through transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in the nerves of the skin. Athletes who ingested a beverage containing compounds that activate TRP channels recovered from cramps more quickly and with less soreness (Muscle & Nerve, Sep. 2017). These compounds included hot pepper, ginger and cinnamon.

Although these TRP activators were ingested, there are also TRP channels on nerves found in the skin, where they function to detect heat and cold. We suspect that the fragrances used in soap could be activating the TRP channels to reverse the hyperactive nerve signals that trigger the cramping. Previously, readers have reported that aromatherapy works against nocturnal leg cramps. We don’t know, of course, if scientists will ever complete a study to see if soap against the skin actually does activate TRP channels to counteract leg cramps.  

Magnesium for Leg Cramps:

Magnesium is a popular approach for preventing leg cramps. Although many readers find it helpful, studies don’t provide strong evidence to support its use (BMJ Clinical Evidence, May 13, 2015).

Keep in mind that too high a dose of magnesium (generally over 300 mg) could cause diarrhea. Moreover, people with kidney problems must avoid magnesium supplements, as they may put too much strain on the kidneys.

Easy Soap Chips:

It isn’t difficult to cut soap up into small pieces, but we have made it easier for you. We offer Leg Soap, small soap chips in a delightful tea olive scent. You may wish to consider them as an easy way to keep this leg cramp remedy handy.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Maughan RJ & Shirreffs SM, "Muscle cramping during exercise: Causes, solutions, and questions remaining." Sports Medicine, Dec. 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-019-01162-1
  • Craighead DH et al, "Ingestion of transient receptor potential channel agonists attenuates exercise-induced muscle cramps." Muscle & Nerve, Sep. 2017. DOI: 10.1002/mus.25611
  • Young G, "Leg cramps." BMJ Clinical Evidence, May 13, 2015.
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