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How Liquid Soap Gives Quick Relief from Leg Spasms

A reader reports that smearing liquid soap on the legs can stop muscle spasms quickly.

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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  • 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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