yellow mustard, burn, science behind home remedies, spoonful of mustard

For years people have been insisting that a teaspoon or two of yellow mustard eases the pain of muscle cramps within a minute or two. We have even tried it ourselves with amazing success. But health professionals often roll their eyes when we mention this or other kitchen cabinet treatments.

That’s because they cannot imagine a reason why mustard might work. It defies their understanding of how a drug is absorbed from the stomach and exerts a pharmacological effect on the body. The mustard cure works too darned fast for standard scientific explanation.

Home Remedies Often Defy Logic:

Home remedies have been with us since the dawn of civilization. Before there were drugs there were herbs, spices and a variety of natural products to help us when we were in distress.

With the advent of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals, home remedies fell into disfavor. Doctors did not learn about them in medical school and drug companies were not about to invest millions of dollars into products that could not be patented. As a result, doctors often sneer at old wives’ tales or other seemingly silly solutions for common ailments.

When we discuss home remedies, as we frequently do, people often ask us, “How does that work?” We rarely have a good answer, which is why physicians are so understandably skeptical. Without a plausible explanation for the mechanism of action, they don’t believe a spoonful of mustard can stop a leg cramp within a minute or two.

If It Might Help and Won’t Hurt and Is Affordable:

We always figure that if something works, is not dangerous and doesn’t cost very much, that’s what matters. After all, doctors did not know how aspirin worked for at least 70 years after it was brought to market by the Bayer company. That didn’t keep aspirin from easing pain or lowering fevers.

An Explanation for Mustard vs. Cramps:

Now we have an ingenious explanation for why mustard or pickle juice works to relax muscle cramps. For decades physicians and athletic trainers assumed that muscle cramps originated in muscles and were caused by dehydration or imbalances in electrolytes such as sodium, potassium or magnesium.

Researchers have established that pickle juice promptly eases electrically induced muscle cramps (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, May, 2010).  They have also demonstrated that the mechanism of action of pickle juice or mustard is not through electrolyte replenishment (Journal of Athletic Training, May-June, 2014).

Nobel prize winner Rod MacKinnon, MD, and his colleague Bruce Bean, PhD, are neurobiologists. They are also prone to muscle cramps. While kayaking several miles off Cape Cod, Dr. MacKinnon suffered debilitating cramps, which was dangerous that far out in the ocean. Fortunately, they made it back to land and began a quest to better understand the causes of such incapacitating cramps.

By thinking creatively, they discovered that muscle cramps are actually triggered by misfiring nerves rather than dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. These brilliant scientists came up with a revolutionary idea that might transform the treatment of muscle cramps.

They hypothesized that strong flavors would trigger nerves in the mouth, throat and stomach. This neuronal stimulation might in turn overwhelm the misbehaving nerves that were causing muscle cramps. They concocted a spicy beverage containing cinnamon, ginger and a hot pepper extract that “directly influence and regulate nerve function.” They call the product Hotshot (online at

Strong Flavors and Relief from Muscle Cramps!

We suspect that yellow mustard, hot peppers or pickle juice may also work by stimulating the same nerves. Visitors to our website report fast cramp relief with such remedies that cannot otherwise be explained by the slow absorption of sodium in the case of pickle juice or turmeric in the case of yellow mustard.

Lessons to be Learned From the Mustard Cure:

Perhaps it’s time for skeptics to recognize that just because a remedy may seem strange does not mean it should be rejected. The research of Drs. MacKinnon and Bean offers a novel explanation for why so many people have reported success with home remedies for leg cramps. It might even help explain why soap under the bottom sheet works to prevent leg cramps for so many people. It is entirely possible that the fragrance in soap triggers a neuronal reaction that eases the cramps. Here is a link to one hypothesis in this regard.

Here is another link you may find intriguing:

Skeptics Become Bed Soap Believers To Overcome Leg Cramps

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  1. Nancy

    I was struck by what I thought to be my last minutes on earth by the worse leg and thigh cramps possible. It was so bad I was screaming and crying; believe me when I say I don’t react to pain that way normally. Seconds later I remembered a friend had said something a few month back about mustard. I’m not a big fan of mustard, but I tried it anyway. It was like a miracle from heaven had happened. As soon as the mustard and my saliva mixed the cramps were immediately gone. I’m a believer.

  2. Alda

    One night while attending our granddaughter’s volleyball game, I noticed that when the opposing team left the floor, they went to a woman on the side lines with a bowl of dill pickles. Each player received a dill pickle and paper towel. Our son told us it was to prevent cramps. I have suffered excruciating night-time cramps so bad I have actually begged to die. I was prescribed statins against my wishes, and these cramps started several months later. Finally after being switched from one statin to another, my physician agreed that I should stop. The cramps have continued. After seeing the dill pickle incident, I started eating half a dill pickle every night. It has now been a little over one month, and I no longer experience the cramps!

  3. Ryan
    West Virginia

    I took the advice of a hardcore cyclist before a 53 mile bike race to the top of West Virginia’s tallest peak Spruce Knob. The mustard packets worked like a charm. I typically would get horrible leg cramps after about 3 hours on the bike, the mustard packets actually worked. I’ll never ride without a few in my pocket.

  4. Barbara

    I had a terrible leg cramp in my thigh. I have gotten muscle cramps in my legs for years. I tried yellow mustard today about 1 tsp and drank some water. Gone in about 2 minutes. Good bye commercial leg cramp pills. They didn’t work this fast.

  5. Bob
    Raleigh, NC

    I have been using mustard for muscle cramping for several years after hearing about it on the local NPR’s People’s Pharmacy hour. I run 3 to 6 miles every Saturday morning, and the cramping comes in the afternoon or that night. As I get older (just passed 70) the cramping has increased. Sports drinks do not work.

    I started keeping packets of mustard everywhere, but one warning. Recently, while at work, one of the packets, when opened, was a little hard, but I downed it anyway, and ended up with a stomach ache for 5 hours. I now only use mustard from the container that stays refrigerator.

  6. Lorraine

    Severe leg cramps often wake me from a sound sleep, especially on days when I have worked out at the gym. Several years ago I found that quinine water (tonic water) works almost instantly to stop the cramps, so I keep a short bottle of it next to my bed and drink 1/2 a bottle when needed. Tonight I woke with cramps, but was out of quinine water, so hobbled to the fridge and downed a teaspoon of yellow mustard. While not as pleasant to consume alone as it is on a hotdog, it did work to take the cramps away, nearly as quickly as the quinine.

  7. meme

    Yellow mustard is only thing that stops the horrible cramps I get in my legs and worst of all upper thigh. I think it would be beneficial for the elderly to be made aware of this mustard remedy as cramps can be very bad for them. Wonder about mustard as emergency help for heart pain which is a muscle also.

  8. Denise

    Mustard (with turmeric works) for me. I have suffered from night leg cramps for many years. In the past, eventually they’d go away only to come back an hour later, and repeat through the night. After eating mustard, the cramps subside within a few minutes, and they do not come back the rest of the night. That is proof for me that it really works. When I was out of mustard, I got cramps and suffered on and off through the night as they’d ebb and flow. Now I have a spare bottle in the cupboard. However, I must say that it is very difficult for me to swallow the mustard as I have developed an aversion to eating it that way. However, since the pain is so intense, I make it happen, and holding my nose as I swallow helps!

  9. Ziggy

    I have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and leg cramps are common. Tonic water has always worked almost instantly for me, as well as yellow mustard. I’ve tried over-the-counter “leg cramps” pills with no success. As for hiccups, what helps me is drinking “hot” coffee. I feel as if my throat muscles relaxe after I swallow a few good-sized sips.

  10. DENISE

    I have had success with Natural Calm Magnesium Powder. It does work almost instantly for me. However, as of late for the last 6 weeks or so, my leg cramps have changed. when I awaken during the night and stretch, the stretching triggers muscle spasms more in my feet, tops/front of my leg below my knees, and severe thigh spasm. All new and terrible experiences. Time for a blood panel test for me anyway. I need to find out if diabetic neuropathy is a possibility. i welcome any conversation about this.

  11. Lete
    Dallas TX

    My late husband was prescribed a lot of meds with lots of side effects. Occasionally, his hands would go into cramps. Half a spoonful of commercial yellow mustard would stop the hand contractions in less than 30 seconds.

  12. Judie

    I am a believer in taking mustard for leg, feet, back or anything that is cramping. It seemed like I always started cramping after having epidurals in my spine, so I guess I will not get any more epidurals as they didn’t seem to help for very long.

  13. Goose

    Since eating a spoon ful of mustard is hard for me to “swallow” I have a bag of small pretzels which I cover with mustard. Hoping for same effect. Your thoughts.
    Goose in Maine.

    • Phyllis

      I’m wondering if the epidurals fit back pain could have led to the severe leg cramps I’m currently experiencing

  14. Bunny
    Gurgaon, India

    I’ve suffered from leg cramps at night for 15 years (ever since I started taking statins). I stopped the statins 4 years ago, but the agonising cramps continued, waking me up from the deepest sleep and sometimes so bad that I couldn’t help screaming. The only relief I got was from soaking my feet in an Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) for an hour every day.

    This meant I had to carry along a tub and the salts whenever I went on holiday. Then two weeks ago, I read about soap beneath the bottom sheet. I fished out an old, fairly dried out sliver of Dove soap and put it beneath my bottom sheet and stopped dooing the foot soak — on an experimental basis. It’s been 12 days, and I haven’t had a cramp.

    My husband suffers from muscle pain in his left shoulder and I put a fresh bar of Dove beneath his sheet near the left side of his pillow yesterday. He woke up this morning without pain in his shoulder for the for the first time in months. This is brilliant. I will now go and score my old sliver of soap so that it becomes more effective. Thanks a lot.

  15. Bob
    Vernon, BC

    Too bad that mustard is not a preventative, but only a curative procedure. I have suffered severe hamstring cramps following above normal amounts of physical activity. These usually occur at night after I go to bed. Last July during a pickleball tournament in +35C weather, I started getting leg cramps during play. I was granted a “medical” timeout and administered two packets of mustard by the attending nurse at the medical tent. By the time I walked the 100 paces back to the court, my cramps were gone. Apparently they have been using this tried and proven method for years for treating cramps during competition. What a fantastic find!

  16. Chris

    Would this work for menstrual cramping?

  17. Teresa

    works great for me and I have severe cramping in calves and thighs.

  18. Bob
    Rochester, MI

    Just had our high school tennis team up to Traverse City in upper Michigan this weekend for a tournament. Very hot, over 90. I handed out mustard packs to the guys and one of them had to use it during a match and the cramping stopped almost immediately. Our #1 singles player swore by it last year. Nice to know some of the science behind it. I’m a believer!

  19. Rosemary G

    Mustard definately works 4 me. Tried it. It does work.thank u

  20. Loren
    New Haven

    I have been suffering with MS for 25 years and have had severe muscle and cranial cramps and short circuiting. I just downed the yellow mustard, and my feet stopped jumping! A friend, who is also a winning basketball coach, uses with his team. Kudos! Grace

  21. Brenda
    Cuyahoga Falls, OH

    I am totally cramp-prone for every muscle in my body—even my scalp. In the stomach, the thighs, neck–I get them all. It is worse if my body gets cold, or I follow a low-carb diet and that makes cramps worse. I have tried:
    Soap under the bed – nothing.
    Use the Sole (concentrated salt water in the morning) – nothing.
    Hyland’s Pills – nothing.
    Stretching/Exercising – nothing.
    Extensive Physician visits – nothing.
    Pickle Juice – nothing
    Tonic Water – nothing.
    Chugging French’s Yellow Mustard – YES! It is the ONLY thing that stops my debilitating body cramps in 90 seconds. I don’t even use a spoon- just turn the bottle up and chug a healthy amount. I have done this for years–it is the only thing that has worked.
    I keep a giant sized mustard:
    Next to bed.
    On my desk at work.
    In my handbag. — yes I travel with it because I sometimes get cramps while driving.
    I 100% vouch for the nerve stimulation causation and the mustard shocking another set of nerves.

    • Stacie

      It’s literally the only thing that works for me too! Was out of regular mustard the other night and all I had was stone ground mustard with horseradish. Guess what, it worked too!

  22. sherry

    I had problems with muscle cramps while exercising until I added more salt to my diet.

  23. Janet

    I say, “whatever works”, regardless if there is a scientific explanation. Sometimes, placebo effect works when other things don’t–so what, it works to alleviate a body problem and to me that is what counts.

    Sometimes, we question things to the nth degree and want to disregard ideas because they cannot be explained. Who really cares most times when something works and defies explanation. It works and that is what is important to the person with the problem.

  24. Mitzi RPh
    St. Paul, MN

    I am pharmacist (now retired) and am used to seeing clinical studies done on a drug before recommending its use. However, with a paucity of effective treatments for muscle cramps, I decided that I had nothing to lose in trying prepared mustard to relieve night-time leg cramps that I often get. Over the last few months I have tried it 5-6 times and have had 100% success! Within 1 minute I start to feel the cramp releasing! I’m a believer! And am thankful to The People’s Pharmacy as it is through you that I learned of this treatment.

  25. cyril

    Will this work for arthritis?????

  26. TAURUS

    And, on another thought, I have been “EARTHING” with a ground wire or walking bare foot, and I can honestly say that a mole on my back has shrunk to the point where it is almost “GONE”! It seems to work for me. My knee pains seem to have subsided much to my astonishment. I made my own ground wires and have two, one in the house while I am on the computer and one in my “MANCAVE” when I am in the garage. Why don’t you check out the websites and see for yourself. Thankyou for your time.

  27. TAURUS
    N Falls, NY

    I’ve had better luck drinking Tonic Water on a more regular basis at the restaurants I visit than eating mustard.

  28. Don

    I wonder if this is the same sort of premise that causes bitters on an orange slice to relieve hiccups.

    • Robin

      I use a tablespoon of peanut butter to get rid of hiccups. I don’t know if it works for everyone, but everyone I’ve had try it has worked for them. Tastes good too. I also use mustard when I have cramps at night. It works within minutes.

    • Paula
      Boardman, Ohio

      Drinking upside down works the best for me. An alternate to drinking upside down is taking a big mouthful of liquid holding it in your mouth, then touch your chin to your chest. While your head remains bent down swallow your liquid. It has never failed me or my family.

      I also suffer from cramping. I have tried mustard, to my amazement it worked almost instantly. If you cramp from statins, stop taking them. It is one of their more serious side effect. I knew a lady who swore they made her lose the ability to walk. There are other med for cholesterol and triglycerides that work and are not in the stating family.

  29. Douglas

    I use mustard for leg cramps, I keep a bag of small mustard packs that come from a sandwich shop. When I start experiencing a leg cramp I’ll down one of the mustard packs and the cramp goes away almost immediately.
    Thanks, Douglas

  30. Charles

    When I get leg cramps I have always put my thumbs behind my top front teeth and pushed/ pulled out. Cramps melt right away. Crazy but it has always worked for me.

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