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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Leg Cramps and Sleeping with Soap

Published July 13, 2011 2:54 PM by Lisa West

Let's talk about cramps. No, no, not the grab-your-Midol cramps. I'm talking about the post-workout, should-have-drank-more-water, gut-wrenching cramps. Many athletes suffer from cramping after strong workout sessions. Usually the treatment is fairly simple - drinking more water, maintaining a stretching program or altering a post-workout nutrition plan to restore depleted electrolytes or other minerals (think: potassium). There are a handful of pharmacological options for prevention and treatment of muscle cramps, as well.

Of course, everything I've just written is probably a review. Most people know the basic treatments for muscle cramping. But what if those options don't work? What if you are a higher-level cyclist, and every night after a longer ride you wake up to your calf muscles completely contracted? That's what happens to my friend, John, frequently. Now John isn't the most compliant of all souls. He just doesn't have the patience for stretching, and sometimes a cold beer looks more appealing than a glass of water, even though he knows the benefits of both.

Anyways, John heard from some other cyclists a trick for treating his leg cramps - sleeping with a bar of Ivory soap under the sheets. He told me about it and asked my opinion, and even brought up a website on his iPhone that had pages of testimonials from other restless leg sufferers (There was even a picture of a bar of soap placed on a mattress, to illustrate the correct use!). I didn't really know what to say. I felt like I was in college, ill-prepared for an exam. I should know this! I should know how Ivory soap treats muscle cramps, because I am a physical therapist, and physical therapists know muscles better than anyone else.

I tried to rationalize and deduct what the mechanism of action would be for a bar of soap to inhibit muscle contraction. Neutralizing electrical fields? Maintaining personal hygiene during REM sleep is somehow related to diminished actin and myosin bridging? Placebo? Either way, John has tried sleeping with soap twice, and both times has avoided muscle cramps. He was thrilled.

Guess what? There isn't any research about this. No published literature. If you are looking for evidence-based practice, this isn't it, unless the evidence is my friend. I think this is a good learning experience for me and other "newer" therapists; that sometimes we will find interventions that work with no clear reason why. The important thing is that we try new things even if we don't know if or how they will work.

4 comments

Jim- Thanks for the post.  Glad to hear you found an effective solution!  

Lisa West July 22, 2011 5:11 PM

Like others, I too had heard of sleeping with a bar of soap.  I did not hear of a special brand, size or anything else.  I was having leg cramps on semi-nightly routine.  I placed the soap in the bed, in-between the sheets and I have not had any leg cramps since I started this practice.  I have come to conclusion that "it works".  I don't know why but it does.  I don't care if it is "all in my mind" or not; it works for me and that is important.  

Jim, Police - Retired July 20, 2011 7:03 PM
MI

Ha!  Perhaps, maybe I will add all sorts of ingredients to my mattress and see the effects on my musculoskeletal system.  It's like the Princess and the Pea, only in reverse.

;)

Lisa West July 13, 2011 8:07 PM

PhD study in waiting?

Dean Metz July 13, 2011 4:42 PM

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