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How to Stop Hand Cramps with a Bar of Soap

Holding a bar of soap, especially one with a pleasant fragrance, could stop hand cramps quickly by overwhelming olfactory neurons in skin.
How to Stop Hand Cramps with a Bar of Soap
Soap in hand  on blue background

Have you ever suffered from cramps in the muscles of your hand? In addition to hurting like the dickens, such a cramp can make it nearly impossible to use your hand until the muscle contraction is relaxed. Is there a way to stop hand cramps quickly and easily?

How to Stop Hand Cramps by Holding a Bar of Soap:

Q. I tried putting a bar of soap under the bottom sheet and it worked extremely well to prevent foot cramps. One night I developed painful cramping in my hands. I got up and took another bar from the sink. Just holding it for a few minutes stopped the cramps.

From then on I’ve kept a bar of soap in an athletic sock tied off at the open end. I put the sock at the foot of the bed, under my covers and near my feet.

When I get hand cramps I just reach down and get the soap-sock and hold it for a few minutes. Once I get relief, I put it back near my feet. I use Ivory and change the bar every month.

A. You are not the first person to tell us that soap works to stop hand cramps as well as leg cramps. Card players and fishermen report that when their hands cramp up, holding a bar of soap can often bring relief within minutes.

One of the early reports we got was from a reader who said:

“I have arthritis in my hands, so when I go to bed I hold a bar of soap and the pain goes away immediately.”

Another told us about her husband, who was troubled with cramps in his hands while playing cards:

“I got a bar of soap and put it in his hand. Within a minute the pain subsided. He held the bar for about 10 minutes and the cramp never came back. Now we keep a bar of soap near where we play cards.”

How Does This Work?

We suspect that the volatile oils in the soap fragrance might be affecting nerves that are misfiring and causing the cramps. Until recently, we did not have much of an explanation, though there was some research confirming that the fragrance in soap can make cramping muscles relax and ease the pain of fibromyalgia (Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, Sept., 2008).

Previously, physiologists and sports medicine physicians thought that muscle cramps could be attributed primarily to dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Although those conditions may trigger some cramps, a pair of neurobiologists have come up with a completely different theory. (You can read more about it here.) As they explain it, muscle cramps are triggered by misfiring motor neurons. Overwhelming the sensory neurons in the mouth and throat with strong tasting foods such as mustard or hot sauce can often halt the misfiring and stop the affected muscle from contracting.

So far as we know, these brilliant scientists have not looked at soap as a way to stop hand cramps or other muscle cramps. But skin also has sensory neurons that pick up scent (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Nov., 2014). It is possible, though at this point it is just our hypothesis, that overwhelming these skin olfactory sensors could work in a similar way to overwhelming the taste receptors and short-circuit the motor neurons that are misfiring to cause hand cramps.

Any Scented Soap Will Probably Work:

If you would like soap to stop hand cramps or prevent leg cramps at night, we offer The People’s Pharmacy Bed Soap, scented with lavender and flat to create less of a lump in bed. For hand cramps or to add to socks for daytime use, we offer The People’s Pharmacy Leg Soap, small chips scented with tea olive fragrance. Although we have designed these soaps specifically to help against muscle cramps, many readers report success with other easily available soaps.

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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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