ice pack on neck

If you search cure leg cramps on our website you will likely find all sort of remedies. They include pickle juice, pickle relish, yellow mustard, tonic water, soap under the bottom sheet, glycerin, B vitamins, bananas and V8 juice, to name just a few. We did not think there was a cramp remedy we hadn’t heard of. Then along came a new cure for leg cramps.

Could an Ice Pack Cure Leg Cramps?

A reader sent us the following message:

Q. We discovered a simple and nearly instant treatment for leg cramps. Stand on an icepack.

This has worked for my husband and me time and time again. A plastic zipper bag with cubes works fine. Just put it under your bare foot and stand still until the cramp goes away. You won’t believe how quickly it will be effective.

A. Wow! We thought we had heard of just about every leg cramp remedy known to man (and woman), but this is a new one for us.

Can Science Explain a Bizarre Leg Cramp Remedy?

There may even be an explanation for this discovery. Specialized ion (TRP or transient receptor potential) channels are found on cell membranes throughout the body. They transmit sensations of heat and cold. These TRP channels also respond to strong flavors like vinegar, chili peppers and ginger.

Many people report that swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard or an ounce of pickle juice (containing vinegar) can quickly reverse muscle cramps. We think this is accomplished by stimulating TRP channels. This appears to quickly calm the misfiring nerves that cause cramps.

Jim shares his story about mustard:

“The mustard remedy works for me. About once a month from 7-11 pm some friends get together to play cards. I have a damaged lower back so sitting more than an hour or two is difficult enough. It is often compounded by a severe leg cramp.

“A spoonful of Mustard takes it away quickly or another spoonful if it’s really bad. I also keep yellow mustard packets in my carry on if flying because I have experienced cramps on airplanes also.”

Vicki in Georgia tells a mustard tale:

“I have a funny story about mustard treating leg cramps. My 80-year-old-mother was having a leg cramp while sitting in a recliner at my house. I received a phone call from my best friend at the same time and she said ‘give her a spoonful of mustard!’ So I reluctantly did it and it worked immediately.

“One might think that when the person suffering from leg cramps gets up and walks to get the mustard out of the refrigerator that it would be the walking that ‘cured’ the leg cramp. But I was the one who walked to get the mustard.

“Yep! I, too, was skeptical but also amazed and gratefu that mom was no longer in pain. Thanks People’s Pharmacy for the home remedies! We skeptics don’t have to try them but when we eliminate pain without drugs, we are so happy! Blessings to you and your staff! Sincerely, Vicki in Georgia”

A Scientific Explanation for How Mustard Might Cure Leg Cramps:

If you would like to hear a neurobiologist explain how all this works in understandable language, listen to our syndicated radio show. You can download the mp3 file for free, get the free podcast or stream the audio for free:

“Show 1054: The Scientific Explanation for a Weird Remedy”

Why Might an Icepack Cure Leg Cramps?

Swallowing mustard (or vinegar, or ginger, or tonic water) likely stimulates TRP channels in the mouth, throat and stomach. We suspect that standing on ice may have much the same effect from the other end of the body. TRP channels are found in the mouth as well as the skin. TRP channels respond to heat as well as to cold!

Be careful, though. We don’t want anyone to fall off an icepack in the middle of the night and break a bone. In fact, we don’t think it is necessary to stand on the ice pack at all. Just apply ice to the bottom of your feet. If our theory is right, that should work just as well. Then again, It might be easier and safer to just swallow a teaspoon of yellow mustard!

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  1. Helen
    Mesquite, Texas
    Reply

    I finally tried the yellow mustard solution. It was 1 AM, and I was desperate. It took about 10 minutes to stop the leg cramps, but the awful taste was still in my mouth at 8AM, and I had not only rinsed my mouth, but used mouth wash, as well.

  2. Wendy
    ON
    Reply

    Any time I get leg cramps, muscle spasms or pain in my knee its a sign that I haven’t been drinking enough water. Muscle spasms in the middle of the night are killer… I get up as best I can and drink as much water as I can and they go away instantly as soon as my belly is full. Best kept secret ever… dehydration is the worst thing you can let happen to your body.

    • Joe Graedon
      Reply

      Wendy,

      We know a lot of people are convinced that dehydration causes leg cramps and that rehydrating solves the problem. That used to be an article of faith. More recently, researchers believe it not backed by science.

  3. Sara
    Branson, MO
    Reply

    The pickle juice works for me – every time! To save time I just eat several pickle slices right out of the jar. This is the first time anyone has had an explanation of “why” it might work though!

    The one thing that I have learned over the years is this: when these cramps hit in the night, do NOT jump up from the bed too quickly! I have found myself on the floor, being revived by a frightened family member on more than one occasi!on.

    Thanks for all the tips

  4. katie
    Reply

    I do the opposite of cold, I use heat. In the winter I wear heavy wool socks to bed. It seems to be the cold that triggers my foot and leg cramps. But then I have Raynaud’s syndrome. Sometimes, my toes will turn purple or white due to this, and a toe cramp will go along with it. I often use a heating pad or run warm water over my leg/foot which seems to get rid of it pretty fast. The downside is that all of this in the middle of the night, then it’s hard to get back to sleep. I may try the ice remedy and see how that works. I usually keep some ice packs in the freezer, so it would be easy.

    • Joe Graedon
      Reply

      We think that someone with Raynaud’s probably should not use ice!

      • Jan
        Reply

        Amen! I had unrecognized Reynaud’s years ago when I was in college. Medical personnel in the college infirmary thought I had stubbed my toe and had me apply ice. I ended up with the circulation cutting off in my foot and in my leg up to an inch or two above my knee.

  5. Bonnie
    St Louis
    Reply

    I had such severe leg cramps many times every night for 2-3 years. I tried several of the above solutions. None worked. I decided to try more potassium by drinking 8 or 9 ounces of low-sodium V-8 Juice, which is very high in potassium, each evening. That was my cure. Now, rather than having to drink the V-8 every day I am taking 10meg’s of a potassium prescription. No longer have leg/foot cramps at all. A miracle for me.

  6. jim
    louisa, va
    Reply

    At age 77 and someone who measures effort (rather than weight or duration) in my exercises, I get cramps in various muscles quite often.

    Since I’m a massage therapist, specializing in trigger points, it is both quick and easy to get rid of the cramps. I spend 3 to 5 minutes massaging the painful muscle. This both increases circulation in the muscle which diminishes the fatigue toxins (lactic acid) in the mucscle, and it loosens the trigger point. I can then complete my exercise (or work) without any more pain or cramps.

  7. Patty
    Illinois
    Reply

    The mustard works for me. I dreaded swallowing regular mustard so switched it to “honey mustard”. Works like a charm.

  8. Lynda
    Kill Devil Hills, NC
    Reply

    My leg cramps come at night. I just jump out of the bed and stand on our bare hardwood floor. It is cool enough to cure the cramp almost instantly.

  9. Sylvia
    Waco, TX
    Reply

    A magnesium supplement tablet fixed my leg and foot cramp problems. An acquaintance suggested it years ago, and she was right. It worked.

  10. Carol Kroll
    Reply

    I can try the ice pack, which is good because vinegar, salt, and other things in mustard or pickle juice give me raging heartburn. Thanks.

  11. Scott
    LaVale, MD
    Reply

    I have found that splashing some rubbing alcohol on the site of the cramp causes it to let go quickly. Probably similar to using ice. I usually get them a couple of hours after cycling.

  12. Nancy B
    Madison,MS
    Reply

    I have been having foot cramps on and off for years that awaken me during the night. My best remedy is to hobble to my cold tile flooring in the hallway and walk the cramp out. The cold is soothing and works quickly!

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