yellow 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. mary m.

    totally impressed by those who have used yellow mustard. I depend on adding 250 mg of magnesium to my calcium [1000 tum]. I do not have a thyroid or parathyroids. will try mustard as I get some severe leg spasms occaisionally.

  2. Teri

    I get leg cramps at night, but if I take two teaspoons of mustard before bed, I don’t get leg cramps. If I forget to take the mustard and get a cramp in my leg, I take two teaspoons of yellow mustard and within seconds the cramps are gone.

  3. Susan Hawthorne

    That’s interesting.
    I always wondered why pickles or pickle juice or mustard would stop a cramp but not PREVENT cramps. Now I know!!

  4. Pat

    I am amused at people finding it yucky and difficult to take a spoonful of mustard. They ought to try castor oil as a remedy for other things. THAT would convince me I wasn’t sick enough to stay home from school . BTW, yellow mustard works great for me. I keep a container at my bedside.

    I’ve been doing it for years. Drug companies and doctors make no money on that solution… Also I was told that the Roman Legions would put vinegar into their drinking water..ostensibly to avoid cramps. So .OK you snowflakes.. Man Up !

    • grace

      brown Guldens mustard doesn’t work????

  5. Kay

    Totally works. Half a mustard packet or two small swallows of pickle juice stops the muscle cramps RIGHT NOW.

  6. Avis
    Boulder CO

    My fingers tingle when I am low on calcium. I take a Tum 500 mg for relief within a minute. Pickle juice has been my salvation for 50 years when it comes to leg cramps. Oil field workers are issued cans of pickle juice for the electrolytes.

  7. Helene
    Houston, Texas

    Can you use bread and butter pickle juice or does it have to be dill?

  8. Sally

    Will the mustard/pickle juice work for lasting nerve pain which resulted from shingles?

  9. I McNee
    South Africa.

    After 7 years of ocean cruising I started getting muscle cramps in my legs, presumably from the periods of non-availability of fresh food. My research suggested magnesium deficiency so whilst ashore in Australia, I started supplementing with magnesium and pretty soon the cramping stopped. Amazingly so did my almost daily dose of heartburn. That was seven years ago and I still take magnesium glycinate 500 mg. daily.

    Most people are apparently, deficient in this mineral, which is implicated in more than 300 processes in the body. If you need to take a remedy for cramps or heartburn maybe you are one of them.

    • Sonny

      No #7 iodine applied once daily will rid you of shingles. Apply for 30 days even if it seems the shingles have gone.

  10. Robert

    I try to be as active as possible at age 86. After a day mowing grass, raking leaves, climbing ladders to clean gutters etc I would have terrible leg cramps at night. I started taking mustard and/or vinegar prior to retiring and the results were amazing. I would like to find out what I might do to eliminate numbness and tingling in my arms and hands.

  11. Suzanne
    Richmond, VA

    I, too, have developed terrible leg & foot cramps that wake me at night. I’m 63. My physician suggested the tsp. of mustard. Tried it & the cramps just…STOP, quickly! I’m grateful & amazed…and I love mustard, so no problem with taste! However, the soap trick never worked for me.

  12. Artie B

    When I first heard of using mustard or pickle juice for cramps, I wasn’t sure if that was a preventative or a remedy. Now, I see that it’s taken as a remedy. Why wait until you’re awakened in the middle of the night with cramps so bad that it’s very difficult just to get out of bed. I’ve taken to having a dill pickle and a teaspoon or so of juice at bedtime as a preventative. So far, it has been working.

  13. Ginnie Siena Bivona
    Dallas TX

    I’ve been using the soap remedy for years…but lately it wasn’t working as well. So I decided to try the mustard thing. Now, the idea of a mouthful of nasty mustard in my mouth in the middle of the night sounded yucky…BUT…I just happened to have a bottle of honey mustard in the fridge. And guess what? It tasted good, and it worked!! Yum!! A tasty way to beat those darn cramps.

  14. Gerry
    Boynton Beach, FL

    I have also used mustard for night cramps & it stops them IMMEDIATELY!!! I didn’t have yellow mustard..but Grey Poupon worked just as well. :)

  15. Martha

    I wonder if simply smelling these remedies—Vicks, yellow Mustard, pickle juice (vinegar), soap*—would work to stimulate the nerves in the mouth/throat and thus override the erratic firing of nerves in the extremeties—rather than having to ingest the products, spread them on the skin, or sleep with them? Surely all of these products have very strong stimulating odors. Maybe a little aroma therapy approach? *(I don’t know if a particular type of fragrances in the soap is recommended.)

  16. patricia
    Boulder, CO

    How do I use cider vinegar to help control GERD? I know you have recommended this.

  17. Kate
    Atlanta, GA.

    Hyland Leg Cramp tablets that you melt under your tongue have worked wonders for me. I have tried all the remedies mentioned in the comments however it wasn’t until I tried the little sublingual tablets that I got relief from nighttime leg and feet cramps.

    • Avis
      Boulder CO

      I keep a ten oz water bottle in my refrigerator with 2-3 tablespoons of ACV added. I sip all day long on this and it keeps my stomach balanced. ACV is a healthy home remedy for me.

  18. Ali
    Toronto, Canada

    I have a dear friend who is suffering from leg cramps daily, I will have her try the mustard or the dill pickle juice. Tonic water does not work for her, however; it does for me. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I will suggest your site to all my alternative med friends.

  19. Ann

    I believe it may be the vinegar in the mustard. Everyday I mix 1/4 cup raw-unfiltered vinegar with the “Mother” in it , 1Tbs. raw honey in a 16oz. glass of water and drink it during the day. It may help regulate pH balance in the body. I have Gerd and it works great. Vinegar is wonderful for a lot of conditions!

  20. William
    Washington State

    I haven’t tried the mustard but I do use soap under the sheets in my bed. It does not seem to work for everyone but it does work for me. If you do get a leg cramp, rub dry soap on the cramp, gone in 30 seconds. I use two motel bars of soap under my sheets. Takes about a week to get used to the lumps.

    • Lena T
      Roseville CA

      It is probably the vinegar used for pickling that gets results from pickle juice.

  21. Cindy M.
    Seattle, WA

    Dr. Mercola (a big “web MD”) just last week had a big article on the mysterious factors behind leg cramps, which he referred to as charlie horses. The takeaway was that this was a kind of complex problem that didn’t have many reliable treatments, and the ones that did exist sounded like medical treatments that a doctor had to perform. Not one mention about pickle juice, mustard, tonic water, soap under the sheets… nothing!

    Boy, did I write in, telling people to just go right over to Peoples Pharmacy and they could get all the info they needed about dealing with charlie horses!

    It felt pretty good.

  22. Karen
    Raleigh, NC

    >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

    That’s why they have a Nobel and the rest of us don’t….

  23. Chris
    Andrew, Iowa

    Yellow mustard really worked for me this morning! I used it because I was out of dill pickle juice, which also works! The cramp was in my shin all the way to my foot and arch!

  24. swineetha
    sri lanka

    please read

  25. Cathy
    Harrison, Arkansas

    I loved reading about this new development.

    Gentle stretching has helped me overcome nighttime leg and foot cramps, too. And mustard and pickle juice have given me relief when I do get hit with a cramp.

    I have wondered whether the mustard/pickle thing had to do with nerves and the little “shock” you get when you take that tangy remedy straight. Now, for another idea. As I read the article, I imagined what it is like to eat a spoonful of mustard. I could almost taste it. The salivary glands kicked in a little. If you are out somewhere and can’t get to the fridge, could just thinking very intently about taking in a big spoonful of tangy mustard trigger some relief? I’m going to try it next time a cramp comes on.

  26. Mary

    Regardless of the experts and the research, mustard works for me. I woke up last night to a cramp in my left calf, and while trying to ease it I developed a more severe cramp in my right ankle. I hobbled to the kitchen for a tablespoon of mustard which I usually chase down immediately with water so I don’t taste it. For some reason I didn’t get to the water right away and could actually feel the mustard reacting with my tongue – not quite numbing, but doing something- while at the same time the cramps abated and were gone within seconds. Maybe the scientists are on to something with the nerve-action theory.

  27. Larry M.
    Raleigh, NC

    Stimulating one set of nerves to squelch bogus messages from another set? I’m a believer.

    My late wife had debilitating ankle pains for over a year. She was even willing to undergo surgery. Orthopedists couldn’t find anything wrong. Out of desperation we sought yet another referral and were referred to a rehab specialist. He prescribed acupuncture and gave an immediate treatment.

    The unrelenting pain stopped in a few minutes. The relief lasted 48 hours. On the return visit he explained that each successive treatment would last longer. And that’s how it worked. Four days, then six, then twelve, until after maybe ten visits there was no recurrence.

    And because he was an MD, the treatments were covered by our insurance.

    I 100% support the theory that bogus nerve impulses can be overcome by stimuli on another nerve set.

  28. Glenys
    United Kingdom

    I’m happy to accept this theory. But how? Do you eat it or rub it on your leg? I must admit I shouldn’t fancy a teaspoonful of English mustard!

    Glenys Goodwill
    Durham, UK

  29. Anne

    I realize this isn’t a solution for everyone, but recently I started an exercise routine that includes dynamic stretching as the warmup and slow stretching as the cool down. There are some very good leg stretches in both. If I’m allowed to provide a resource (I have no affiliation whatsoever), I watched some YouTube videos by HASfit.

    Much to my surprise this has all but eliminated my leg and foot cramps, which I was having almost nightly for over a year. I’ve tried lots of things, but I couldn’t stand the taste of mustard and I didn’t want to drink tonic water every night. Just standing got rid of them, but who wants to hop out of bed at 2:00 a.m. on a regular basis!

    Now, if I do get a cramp, it’s so minor, all I have to do is relax and it’s gone in seconds. I do the exercises 2-3 times a week, with a day off in between.

    I’m also doing a 15 minute dumbbell workout with the stretching. I can’t believe how much stronger I’ve gotten. I started with two 5 lbs., then 8, 10, and now I’m at 12. Sorry, just had to add that because I’m so happy with the results! :-)

    • Kristin

      Thank you, Anne, for your interesting comments. I have eliminated my leg cramps (soap did not work for me) by stretching before I go to bed. If I’m awake and have a muscle cramp, mustard definitely works and eliminates the cramp within 1/2 minute.

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