Muscle spasms can create significant pain. The medications that doctors can prescribe may help, but such muscle relaxants work slowly rather than quickly. In addition, muscle relaxants such as baclofen may cause side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, itchy rashes and confusion. Wouldn’t it be great to have a home remedy handy that could stop a muscle spasm quickly? Fortunately, most of us keep an effective remedy in the refrigerator.
Stopping Muscle Spasms with Mustard:
Q. I am an above-the-knee amputee who suffers from severe phantom limb pain. This always starts with muscle spasms.
I tried taking a tablespoon of yellow mustard and it stopped the spasms immediately, not allowing them to progress into a full-blown episode that could last 12 hours or more. What is it in mustard that is helping?
My doctor has never heard about the mustard remedy against muscle cramps. He’d like to know more so he can help other patients.
A. There have been no scientific studies of mustard against muscle spasms or cramps, but people tell us that this remedy is surprisingly effective. We were not sure until recently whether the magic ingredient in mustard was the yellow spice turmeric that provides the distinctive color or the vinegar or salt. Thanks for sharing such a compelling story.
Mustard and TRP Channels:
Recent research shows that exercise-induced muscle cramps can be stopped quickly by swallowing something that triggers transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in nerves (Craighead et al, Muscle & Nerve, Feb. 2017). We think that both mustard and vinegar hit these TRP channels to help stop muscle spasms. If you would like to learn more, you could listen to our interview with neuroscientist Bruce Bean, PhD, about how he and Nobel neurobiologist Rod McKinnon came up with a product for muscle cramps that works through TRP channels.
Even one of the most peculiar though popular remedies, soap under the bottom sheet, may be working through TRP channels. Scientists have really just begun to learn how these work in our bodies, and your doctor has probably never heard of TRP. We suspect, however, that TRP channels and their activities explain numerous home remedies. A lot of spices and herbs, from hot pepper to menthol (mint), act on TRP channels.
Home Remedies for Leg Cramps:
We have gathered many leg cramp remedies in our Guide to Leg Pain. If swallowing a teaspoon of mustard is not effective for nighttime leg cramps, perhaps one of the other remedies will work. Roger said:
“My wife gets bad leg cramps and when she does she will either reach for the pickle jar (she drinks the juice) or the mustard bottle. We read about them on your site. Both work extremely well, but the pickle juice seems to work almost instantaneously.”