rows of yellow mustard on a store shelf, muscle spasms

We sometimes hear from doctors who are disappointed that we write about home remedies. They feel the only topics worthy of discussion are treatments that have been discussed in weighty medical journals. Anything unproven might be dismissed as an old wives’ tale. Don’t tell them that sometimes the old wives were right!

Mustard for Leg Cramps:

Q. My husband is a physician. When I told him about the “mustard cure” for leg cramps, he laughed it off as just another old wives’ tale.

Then when he had leg cramps during the night, I insisted on giving him a teaspoon of yellow mustard. Guess what? He is now a believer and has a small container of mustard on his nightstand!

A. Physicians should be skeptical. They are trained to seek scientific evidence. But experience is also worthwhile. If leg cramps disappear within seconds of swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard, we think that is information worth sharing.

We don’t know if yellow mustard eases cramps so quickly because of the vinegar or the salt in it or due to the turmeric used to give it that bright yellow color. Because of the popularity of pickle juice (vinegar and salt) to stop athletes’ muscle cramps, this has actually been studied and shown to be effective (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May, 2010). Trainers worried that perhaps pickle juice or mustard would upset electrolyte balance, especially in athletes dehydrated by heat and vigorous activity. That has been tested and it doesn’t seem to happen (Journal of Athletic Training, May-June, 2014). People do seem to get relief from their muscle cramps, though.

Other Remedies for Muscle Cramps:

Lots more low-cost, low-risk remedies can be found at They range from yellow mustard to tonic water to pickle juice or a bar of soap under the bottom sheet to prevent nighttime leg cramps. There may be an old wives’ tale or two in the mix but many people have found relief with such remedies and the side effects are negligible.

Sometimes experience trumps skepticism. We love randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, just like the doctor/husband in this question. But we also believe that it is helpful to keep your mind open to possibilities. When a minor cut stops bleeding after an application of finely ground black pepper we think that observation has value.

Whether you are a skeptic or someone who embraces low-cost, practical options, we think our People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedy book offers something useful for a range of conditions from joint pain and heartburn to skin fungus and sinusitis.

Updated 8-1-16

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  1. Mary Jane

    I think we should cease using the term “old wives’ tales,” since many have turned out to be valid home remedies. And what were the husbands doing in days of yore to contribute to healing?

  2. Chris

    The mustard has worked for me in the past for leg cramps during the night and I used to keep a fast food packet near by. But, I now just drink 8 ounces of water instead as my cramps seem to come from poor hydration.

  3. rf

    pickle juice… don’t try to follow the logic…! But, it DOES work:)

  4. Logan P.

    I got a bad leg cramp, I was half asleep when I went to the kitchen and applied prepared mustard to the affected painful area. Without eating any mustard, the pain went away and I was able to go to sleep, yellow and smelling like mustard. I did not mind, it is better than the pain. I used it again in a week on the other leg, again success in removing the pain. Many thanks for the remedy, though it was not meant to be applied topically.

  5. Rocket Scientist

    I can’t believe how instantly the teaspoon of mustard works. I had reduced the number of my foot/leg cramps with the soap, potassium supplements and the heating pad, but the mustard is like a miracle drug.
    My niece is a high-school athletic trainer. I have urged her to try it for the athletes.

  6. SP

    I take magnesium supplements for both leg and foot cramps and restless legs. I try to get about 500 mg of magnesium spread throughout the day. Missing it for a couple of days brings both the cramps and RLS back with a vengeance.

  7. DS

    I wonder if the neck cramps mentioned by kathyP would respond to almond oil with peppermint oil in it. When I was sick to my stomach for two hours and subsequently sore in the ribs and middle to the point of not being able to move without groaning (all following surgery), the only relief I found was to rub this oil mixture all over my middle. INSTANT relief, and it smelled good. I think even the smell of peppermint is calming. I found myself wondering if this is what trainers used to rub on boxers between rounds. Anyone know?

  8. kathyP

    Several times a year I get sudden neck cramps for several days on and off. They are severe and frightening. I can only sit and frantically try to rub the side of my neck until calmed down while yelping like a dog. A friend told me about a teaspoon of yellow mustard, and guess what, it stops! course back again next day for several days but each time, the mustard seems to halt them in tracks.

  9. Khalid

    Try Apple Cider vinegar for GERD. Google for GERD and ACV. & natural remedies.
    You also wanna start Clintro water. Just boil it and drink it.
    Stop eating WHEAT Completely for now. and start Corn Tortilla for few days,
    Wheat can cause GERD. Hope this would help

  10. JimmyB

    I read about using a bar of soap under the top sheet to end leg cramps at night. I was getting cramps almost every night and thought “what do I have to lose” so I tried the bar of soap. It’s going on 5 weeks and not a cramp. My wife thinks it’s psychological. I told her it doesn’t matter as I’m leg cramp free.

  11. Bea

    My Dr. showed me how to do acupressure for headaches. Make a V on your ear with your hand. Where the fingers points massage. You can kind of feel like 2 little balls because of stress build up. Massage there. If you can’t find the spots just massage the whole side of your head with your fingers pushing back with your hand positioned by your temple.
    Hope this helps. Do both sides of your head. Also on the neck, right on the middle of your neck, on your hairline base there are 2 indentations, massage softly on those.

  12. RWT

    I have used the pinch upper lip method to relieve leg, feet and hand cramps and it works, albeit not a quickly as a spoon full of mustard, which seems to work better. I also think that drinking lots of water daily, especially in hot weather when working outside dehydrates a persons body. My doctor said dehydration can be a cause of cramps.

  13. El

    Many equate leg cramps with restless legs (RLS). But the two conditions are very different; & what helps leg cramps may not help restless legs. Any remedies for the latter (RLS)?

  14. AJR

    I read this a few years ago on the peoples pharmacy and, I feel I should mention that I work at a senior center. So I mentioned this tidbit to a 72yr old man who had muscle cramps nightly. For him, it was a miracle cure! He now takes turmeric pills everyday and hasn’t had a cramp since.
    He is not the only person I have told about this and every single person who had tried it swears by it! Another woman now keeps a jar of mustard and a spoon in her bedside table and can’t believe how well it works.
    So, from these senior citizens in KDH a big thanks to peoples pharmacy! For these individuals this information has significantly changed their quality of life for the better.

  15. PP

    My husband couldn’t take mustard because of GERD, but we found taking potassium supplements has cured the problems.

  16. Shirley Mae

    I don’t care for the taste of yellow mustard and so one night when I was having leg cramps, used the spicy brown mustard and it worked just as well so that’s what I use when bothered with cramps. Sometimes the acupressure on the nose works too but when it doesn’t, I resort to the spicy brown mustard jar.

  17. DS

    Your post reminded me of an experience I had at a meeting years ago. I felt a headache coming on, and someone told me to pinch and massage the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and index finger. It did help a lot.

  18. jmf

    It works. I used mustard and got good results. I googled mustard and found out potassium is a major ingrediant. Potassium works almost as well but you avoid the bitter taste.

  19. DS

    Perhaps water with 1/4 tsp. of unrefined salt would work as well, without the sugar.

  20. Debbie A. L.

    Does mustard work for foot and toe cramps as well as leg cramps?

  21. kfs

    I used to suffer from leg cramps during the night until I read about a home remedy somewhere. It may have been from People’s Pharmacy, since I read all your column in the newspaper. When you wake up with the leg cramp, take your index finger and thumb and pinch together from side to side the fold of skin under the bridge of your nose and above your upper lip. Keep the pressure on until the cramps go away, and you won’t have to get out of bed to work out the tightness that cramps leave since the accupressure takes care of that also. It works for any time you get leg cramps, not just the ones you get during the night.
    Another accupressure remedy that I use, is to pinch your left ear lobe between your thumb and index finger to make hiccups stop immediately. I used to put pressure on the base of my palm on the fleshy part below your thumb by using your opposite thumb to apply the pressure to get rid of hiccups. The pressure on the ear lobe seems to work quicker.
    If you know of any accupressure points that work to get rid of headaches or nausea, I would appreciate the information. Thank you for all your wonderful home remedies. I also suffer from GERD but nothing seems to help other than OTC acid reducers like Prevacid. I would like something that works that isn’t so expensive.

  22. HB

    I’ve been surprised at how severe my occasional nighttime leg cramps can get! I tried Gatorade, the sports drink, thinking that since it was presumably originated for athletes, it might help, and it quickly did! It has consistently helped both my wife and I for about 3 years, and feels like our nighttime life saver!
    I drink about a cup, any of the flavors seem to work, but chilled lemon-lime tastes best to me. HB

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