The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Liquid Soap Gives Quick Relief from Leg Spasms

A reader reports that smearing liquid soap on the legs can stop muscle spasms quickly.
Liquid soap bottle and pressing on the dispenser, soap on the palm. Washing hands.

If you have ever had leg cramps, you know that these muscle spasms can be extremely painful. There is no standard medical treatment for this problem, partly because the cause is not well understood (European Journal of Neurology, Feb. 2019). Water alone may increase the likelihood of cramps or spasms. Some scientists prefer restoring electrolytes along with fluids after exercise. However, this takes up to an hour (BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, March 5, 2019). A reader reports that liquid soap is much quicker.

Liquid Soap to Relieve Leg Cramps:

Q. I have suffered from restless legs syndrome for years. I got a little relief from keeping bars of soap in the bed.

Then, on a road trip where I had to do all the driving, I experienced hours of leg spasms. It was so bad I was crying from the pain.
In desperation I bought some liquid soap from a roadside service station and tried rubbing it on my calves. I had complete relief within two miles.

I have told at least 25 people, and every one of them experienced almost instant relief. An antique dealer saw me in town and came over and hugged my neck right there in front of everybody! He said he was finally sleeping well after 20 years of suffering.

Is Liquid Soap Too Silly to Try?

A. Many people laugh at the idea of using soap for leg cramps or restless legs syndrome. It seems like such a silly remedy. Nevertheless, there is some science to support it.

Over a decade ago an anesthesiologist published the results of a study that tested crushed Ivory soap in skin patches (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July, 2008).  The researchers reported positive results for women with menstrual cramps.

In another study this physician tested soap-scented oil (SSO) in a special skin patch he had created.

He reported that:

“the SSO skin patch consistently and adequately relieved muscular pain” (Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sept. 2008).

The soap scented oil doesn’t seem that different from the liquid soap you used. Unfortunately, he published this research shortly before he retired, and his colleagues have not followed up with further studies. We suspect that the soap scent operates through transient receptor potential (TRP) channels.

Anyone who would like to read more about such remedies may find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies of interest.

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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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    Citations
    • Swash M et al, "Muscular cramp: causes and management." European Journal of Neurology, Feb. 2019. DOI: 10.1111/ene.13799
    • Lau W et al, "Water intake after dehydration makes muscles more susceptible to cramp but electrolytes reverse that effect." BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, March 5, 2019. DOI: 10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000478
    • Ough YD et al, "Soap-scented skin patch for menstrual cramps: a case series." Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, July, 2008. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2007.0819
    • Ough YD, "Soap-scented oil skin patch in the treatment of fibromyalgia: A case series." Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sept. 2008.
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    Do you leave the soap on or wash it off, please? Does it irritate the skin?

    As we understand it, the reader left the soap on the skin.

    I had been plagued with random leg cramps for years until, on my wife’s advice, I tried palmarosa essential oil for its calming properties. It has worked almost perfectly, if I can remember to put a drop on each leg and rub it in where I usually get the cramps. Now, even if I’ve walked all day, I don’t wake up in the early morning with debilitating cramps. I’ll consider the soap, but I know palmarosa works!

    Thank you! I take anastrazole for breast cancer and suffer from nightly leg cramps. A strong-smelling name-brand soap and pickle juice help – I will try this for sure!!

    I had been plagued with random leg cramps for years until, on my wife’s advice, I tried Palmarosa essential oil for its calming properties. It has worked almost perfectly, if I can remember to put a drop on each leg and rub it in where I usually get the cramps. Now, even if I’ve walked all day, I don’t wake up in the early morning with debilitating cramps.

    The liquid soap treatment sounds interesting for leg cramps, spasms but I have discovered that taking a homeopathic dose of of magnesium (6x) always has worked for me, and does so almost immediately! My MD later checked out my blood test and found I was low in magnesium!!!

    I tried the ‘soap’ treatment but came across an Amish leg cramp remedy awhile back — it has ‘worked for me’ 100% as advertised, stopping painful nighttime leg cramps within a minute or two! For the skeptics, it carries a 30 day money back guarantee. I would not be without it since using it a few times I have not had any further (other than very infrequent and minor) leg cramp or restless leg problems.

    For what it’s worth: I am 82+ and had polio during the ‘40s, heart attack 2001, KC leukemia (2012 – had worked with radioactive materials in ‘60s) — all apparently resolved thanks to Linus Pauling’s ‘discredited’ Vitamin C megadose (10g/day) ‘orthomolecular’ regimen after discontinuing standard ‘pharmaceutical’ treatments.

    Most soaps are given a scent but what is soap scent? Would an old fashioned soap like Fels-Naphtha be considered to have a soap scent?

    I have RA & each morning have stiff and often folded fingers I was unable to straighten. I started sleeping with a bar of soap between my palms. No more bent nor stiff fingers in the morning. It works!

    For those of us with chemical sensitivity, scented soap is often one of the worst issues we deal with. Even after washing and rinsing, the chemicals in the scents linger on everyone who uses them, causing reactions for us. If you are chemically sensitive these chemicals will be absorbed through the skin, together with whatever relieves the cramps. Beware these powerful chemicals. Chemical sensitivity is developed over time and exposure to chemicals that you once had no acute reaction to.

    Thank you, what a simple idea. I shall try it, as leg cramps are horrible, especially up the back of the thigh. I’ll get back to write how it is going!

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