Don’t soft soap this home remedy

Soap proves to be a fantastic remedy for restless legs, writes our columnist Claudette Sandecki

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” may hold with the promise of financial investments, but thankfully it doesn’t apply to what at first seems like a hocus pocus treatment for restless legs.

At least not in my case.

For years I’ve lain awake hours every night trying to relieve leg cramps, pumping my legs up and down like a frog. Massage helps … for a few minutes. Basting my legs and feet with a mixture of two drops of rosemary oil in a quarter cup of Crisco oil as a carrier brought excellent relief when I used it but I gave it up because of its messiness. I had to wear socks even in hot summer weather to protect the bedding from my oily feet.

But recently a friend sent me an email titled, “Why Does Soap Soothe Nighttime Leg Cramps?”

Page after page of anecdotal testimonials swear by the benefits of a plain bar of soap. Dial, Dove, Irish Spring, Palmolive. All brands work equally well, wrapped or unwrapped, whether touching the skin of the feet or not.

Diabetics or others with foot neuropathy report good pain relief from a bar of soap between their sheets.

Apparently doctors generally pooh-pooh the notion an ordinary bar of soap can have any curative powers. They chalk up anecdotal evidence of soap’s benefits to some placebo effect, despite many patients reporting soap helps them. Some placebo effect!

September 21, the day I received the email, I slipped two bars of wrapped Jergens soap between the sheets near my feet. For the first time in months, maybe years, I slept soundly. Nightly I have continued to sleep soundly except when I’m chasing the soap like a goalie. The bars tended to slip to one side until they fell to the floor, Thump!, several times a night. By sliding the soaps into a pillowcase positioned under the bottom sheet the soap no longer falls to the floor;  the bars stay near my feet.

Even if coffee keeps me awake for an hour or two and I read until drowsy, my legs remain comfortable and still and I am able to fall asleep quickly once I close my book.

In an effort to explain how soap might work, Dr. Derek H. Page, a retired physicist from Quebec, and Hugh Smailes of Australia offer this hypothesis:

Soap is a water-swollen gel, 5 to 15 percent water when purchased, very porous, so water molecules disperse through it. They credit an unknown molecule with suppressing cramps just as a drug is transmitted through your skin by a patch. When the soap’s surface dries out, small molecules can no longer pass through it. Scraping or scoring the bar’s surface revives its beneficial effects.

Soap fragrances contain esters and oils; these compounds are volatile or we couldn’t smell them. And like nitroglycerin which enlarges blood vessels alleviating angina – these compounds may be responsible for the beneficial effects of a plain bar of soap next to or close to the skin of people with restless legs.

To those few patients who haven’t benefitted  from the soap treatment, Dr. Page and Smailes suggest they persevere, try a different soap with a stronger scent, and scrape its surface to release even more fragrance.

You might try searching the internet, or this website to see if there’s a brand others have had good luck with. The fresh, unwrapped bar of soap should then be placed between the sheets, preferably in a location where the soles of your feet can touch it.

Scientists may seek to prove or disprove the effectiveness of a bar of soap but restless leg sufferers are already convinced.

Claudette Sandecki gets a leg up on a good night’s sleep at her Thornhill home.


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