rows of yellow mustard on a store shelf, muscle spasms

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.”

Revised 5/18/2017

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  1. Jan
    Reply

    Could the muscle spasms or cramps be because of a magnesium or potassium shortage? It started happening to me and I noticed that I also wanted bananas a lot. So I bought potassium and began taking it. The cramps in my legs and my side stopped all together. I added magnesium also and now new doctors don’t ask me if I know I have a heart murmur. I believe the magnesium helps me feel over all more relaxed also. Anytime I start forgetting to take the potassium and magnesium, the cramps return. The ones at the base of my calf muscle hurts really bad.

  2. Barbara
    spokane
    Reply

    ever since I heard about swallowing a shot class of dill pickle juice, I use it for nightime cramps/IT WORKS!! Keep in my mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. I believe there is new research about this, and it is something to do with nerve receptors in the pharnyx, not electrolyte imbalance immediate correction. Cheap, hasn’t harmed me

  3. Abigail
    Reply

    Yellow mustard stops my excruciating leg cramps for many hours, sometimes 5 or 6 hours. If relief from leg pain and cramping were only caused by the effect of mustard’s sharp taste on neurotransmitters, wouldn’t that relief wear off more quickly?

  4. Jane
    Reply

    I hear Tonic water is the cure for muscle spasms (Charlie horses). I can’t imagine eating a teaspoon of mustard…ughhhhh…….

  5. Fay
    Texas
    Reply

    It must be the vinegar in the mustard that is effective. I take a magnesium (a muscle relaxant) pill to relieve my leg and foot cramps. It works fast.

  6. JRA
    Reply

    I use to have bad leg cramps, after a hard days work, until I heard about mustard, it usually takes about 2-3 tbl spoons, washed down with water, and the cramps are gone.

    • Ken P
      VA
      Reply

      Yes, mustard works but I suggest you NOT wash it down with water because it works best the longer it stays in your mouth.

  7. Gloria
    Reply

    After discovering that a spoonful of mustard stopped the painful leg cramps I had every night, I wondered if it would also work as a preventative. I now take a spoonful every night before going to bed and I haven’t had leg cramps for the past three weeks. Thank you People’s Pharmacy.

  8. Denise
    Reply

    Are you diabetic? Sounds like you are experiencing neuropathy. You should see your medical doctor and a podiatrist. Some of my patients have had success with Capsaicin cream for this symptom

  9. Anna
    Reply

    Years ago, I read in Joe and Terry’s column about using plain-old French’s mustard for leg cramps.
    When I get cramps in the calves of my legs at night, they are so severe that I just about break my neck trying to get out of bed so that I can get on my feet as quickly as possible. Standing up and walking around does help a bit, but the cramps still leave me in agony.
    Once I take a tablespoon of mustard, it generally helps me within a minute or so. My daughter suffers from occasional leg cramps as well, and has also found relief by taking a spoonful of mustard.
    When I’m traveling, I make certain that I have a small bottle of mustard in the car with me.

    • Ken P
      Reply

      You should also try the soap under the sheet method as a preventative. The other product that work instantly for me is pickle juice… just a tea spoon full works instantly for me.

  10. Mary
    Reply

    Several doctors have run full metabolic panels on me; never found an electrolyte imbalance. However, one doctor prescribed potassium just in case, but it didn’t help. Another suggested calcium and then manganese — also no help. I took quinine tablets for 10 years (until FDA stopped its use for cramps); only got partial relief. Luckily a friend had read about mustard the same month I stopped quinine: and the years since then have been wonderful.
    Muscle cramps have multiple causes; no one answer seems to work for everyone. But nothing has matched mustard for me. I even keep it in my car for long trips.

  11. Wilma R.
    Reply

    I only see dosage in one place. One says 1 tsp and the other says 1 tbl?

  12. Beverly H.
    Reply

    I think it is the salt in the mustard that stops the cramps. I take a potassium tablet every day to control my leg cramps. If I forget and drink a caffeine drink after 2:00 PM, and I start cramping in the middle of the night, I reach for the salt shaker that has a permanent home on my headboard. If the pain allows me to hobble to the bathroom, I put (about) a 1/8 teaspoon of it on my tongue, let it dissolve, and then wash it down with (about) 1/2 cup of hot tap water.
    It takes about 1 minute for it to work. I also keep a bottle of water within reach next to my bed in case I can’t make it to the bathroom. Hot water works faster.

  13. HB
    Reply

    I agree with those commenting on electrolyte balance not being right as cause for bad leg cramps. We’ve had success with sports drinks that we understand were designed to help athletes sweating out electrolytes, as Gatorade. After reading in this column about success with yellow mustard, we’ve also started keeping some of the small packets as given out in sandwich shops right at bedside and with us when we’re out. These are both “lifesavers,” as the cramps can be surprisingly severe and can leave me unable to even walk to the kitchen to get them!
    HB

  14. AA
    Reply

    Because the cramp relief is so quick (almost immediately) I believe the cause of the mustard success must be that the taste of the mustard is so strong that it somehow over-rides the brain’s electrical signals that are being sent to the nervous system causing the spasm. The times that my husband and I have taken mustard, the relief was so quick that the mustard (turmeric, vinegar etc) didn’t have time to get into our stomach much less into our system to stabilize a mineral/electrolyte imbalance.
    The relief for us has come almost as soon as the mustard touches our tongues. My husband will sometimes hold the mustard in his tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. Just my opinion.
    I do however believe that proper hydration, mineral/electrolyte balance can stave of spasms in the first place.
    It would be interesting to see if biting into a lemon would produce similar results. Nonetheless when I’ve gotten a cramp I want immediate relief and really don’t want to be experimenting. ;-)

  15. Tonya
    Reply

    It is the Turmeric powder in yellow mustard that helps settles the muscle cramps and paying attention to electrolytes is important as well.

  16. Karen
    Reply

    I am baffled by why your discussion of muscle cramps does not (and never does) begin with attention to basic electrolyte balance. Surely attention to potassium and magnesium in the diet is more useful to all-body health than drinking pickle juice?

  17. G.NM
    Reply

    Does the yellow mustard also help against pain in the sole of the foot?
    Feel as if I am walking on pins the whole day.

    • Bob
      Atlanta
      Reply

      I have neuropathy in my feet. I wonder if it would help that? I love mustard.

    • Jessie
      Sioux Falls, SD
      Reply

      G.NM.: I don’t know what’s causing your pain so I can’t say in general, but I’m a senior with plantar fasciitis in my right foot, and the yellow mustard does help me. I take about a teaspoonful in the morning after I’m dressed, and it works for most of the day.

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