Can a Bar of Soap in Bed Cure Restless Legs Syndrome or Leg Cramps?

Evidence May Be Lacking, But Could the Home Remedy Work?

Can a bar of soap relieve restless legs or leg cramps?
Can a bar of soap relieve restless legs or leg cramps?. Getty Images

Admittedly, it sounds a little ludicrous: can a bar of soap cure a sleep disorder? From the status of an old wives’ tale to being repeated on popular television programming and proclaimed in Internet forums, could there be truth to it? Is it possible for a simple bar of soap to cure your restless legs syndrome or leg cramps? Learn about this home remedy practice, the strength of evidence behind it, and whether it is something that can actually help you to sleep better.

What Is the Difference Between Restless Legs Syndrome and Leg Cramps?

First, be certain to understand the difference between restless legs syndrome (RLS) and nocturnal leg cramps. RLS is defined by an uncomfortable feeling associated with an urge to move that occurs most often at night when lying down. It happens during wakefulness and is typically relieved by movement, especially by getting up and walking around or shifting the legs. It may be caused by iron deficiency and other medical conditions.

In contrast, leg cramps are characterized by a sudden and painful spasm of the muscles of the feet or legs. These generally last for seconds, but the pain can persist for longer. Leg cramps have different causes and may be relieved by stretching the muscles. They are increasingly common as people get older.

Can Soap Bars Cure Restless Legs or Leg Cramps?

In what is a surprisingly widely discussed treatment option, some suggest that a bar of soap may cure leg discomfort at night.

How might a bar of soap relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome or leg cramps? Is there any science behind the claims made? What is the harm of using a bar of soap for relief?

The causes of restless legs and leg cramps are complex and not fully understood. There is some evidence that low iron contributes to RLS symptoms.

It may be due to problems with the neurotransmitter called dopamine. There may also be a relationship to problems in the peripheral or central nervous system, as it can be seen associated with peripheral neuropathy and other conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. It may be the final pathway of multiple causes.

Leg cramps are often thought to be due to low electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It may be due to dehydration or physical exertion, like prolonged standing. Leg cramps may be associated with other medical conditions like diabetes, liver disease, or kidney failure requiring dialysis. Similar to restless legs symptoms, the exact cause is not known and it may occur due to multiple disparate issues.

As the scientific basis for these conditions is not well established, the gap in knowledge may be filled by traditional beliefs, personal anecdotal experience, and alternative medicine. Television programs like Dr. Oz and The Doctors have discussed the use of soap to relieve these conditions.

It is a popular topic in discussion forums and comment threads, but is there science to support the claims?

The short answer is: no. There is no rationale for placing a bar of soap in the bed as a means to treat either restless legs or leg cramps. Some suggest that it somehow changes the chemistry of the legs. Our bodies do not work by osmosis: we can’t simply absorb “humors” from a bar of soap placed near us in bed. The suggestions to put it at the foot of the bed, under the sheet, or even in a sock reveal inconsistencies that undermine any rational basis for the remedy. How could soap in a sock work just as well as a bar placed beneath a sheet or one that is cradled between your lower legs?

The gold standard for scientific research evidence is a randomized controlled trial. In this case, there would be two similar groups with restless legs or leg cramp complaints and half the subjects would use a bar of soap and the other half would use a placebo. Then, the outcomes would be studied, comparing the symptom relief of each group. Ideally, the subjects would be blinded, not knowing if they used soap or the placebo. These studies have not been done and it is rather unlikely that funding would be secured to do the research as there is no scientific basis to even consider that soap might work.

Why Might a Bar of Soap Help with Restless Legs or Leg Cramps?

Instead of a scientific explanation, we are left with anecdotal evidence: someone telling us to try it or that it helped. Why might some people report that it works? It could certainly be as simple as a placebo effect. Leg cramps generally occur somewhat infrequently, and it is possible that they simply have yet to recur. Restless legs symptoms may also vary in intensity.

Moreover, restless legs syndrome can be relieved by distraction. For example, completing a crossword puzzle on a plane often helps with RLS on a flight. Perhaps kicking a bar of soap around (or even thinking about it being there in bed) provides some level of mental distraction and relief. The mind has a powerful influence on the body, and a little confidence in the remedy might just help it to work.

There is no evidence that a particular brand of soap works better than another (though Dial, Ivory, and Irish Spring have all been touted by individuals). Some have recommended lavender-scented soap as it may also aid sleep, but this is again unsubstantiated. This home remedy is inexpensive and harmless. Unless you are allergic to the soap, or a child or pet tries to eat it, there are no particular side effect risks. In the realm of alternative medicine, it may be worth a try in those who are interested. If it doesn’t work, as it likely would not, you can always just put the bar of soap back in the bathroom.

If your symptoms persist, speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist about additional (more proven) treatment options for restless legs or leg cramps.

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