tonic water is safe, a glass of gin and tonic with ice and a lime slice, FDA bans quinine, beware tonic water, quinine for leg cramps

When a common remedy becomes unavailable, people often become creative. They find new ways to address the problem. That is what many folks have needed to do once the FDA took quinine for leg cramps off the table.

Looking for Quinine for Leg Cramps:

Q. I keep having severe leg cramps. I am old enough to remember when my doctor prescribed quinine for them. Now I can’t find quinine capsules anywhere. A pharmacist suggested I check with you. Is there any way you can help me find quinine for leg cramps? Is there anything similar?

A. Quinine is no longer available over the counter or by prescription to treat leg cramps. The FDA determined that the risk of severe reactions was too high for the modest benefit of alleviating leg cramps. Doctors can prescribe quinine (Qualaquin), but only to treat malaria.

How to Find Quinine:

There are some homeopathic cramp remedies that contain minuscule amounts of quinine. The FDA does not regulate these as drugs, but rather as dietary supplements. Some people report that they get relief, but we are not aware of studies that substantiate their effectiveness.

You can also get quinine in tonic water. Some people find that drinking a glass of tonic at bedtime can ward off nighttime leg cramps.

Other Remedies for Leg Cramps:

Over the years, we have collected quite a number of home remedies for sudden painful muscle cramps. Often these are leg cramps, but occasionally muscles in the hands or arms cramp as well. One favorite remedy that coaches love is pickle juice. A few sips of pickle juice can chase a cramp away. But what about pickle relish? Does it work as well?

Pickle Relish for Sudden Leg Cramps:

Q. I appreciate the suggestion to use pickle juice for leg cramps. I don’t usually keep pickles around but I always have dill relish in the fridge. When I feel a cramp coming on, I just take two tablespoons of pickle relish and it goes away in seconds!

Why Does Relish Work?

A. Pickle relish should work just as well as pickle juice for stopping a nighttime muscle cramp. Presumably, the sharp taste of the vinegar in the relish is largely responsible for triggering TRP (transient receptor potential) channels in nerves to reverse the muscle contraction.

You can learn more about how TRP channel activation eases muscle cramps from this interview with Bruce Bean, PhD. He is a neurobiologist who suffered debilitating arm muscle cramps while paddling a kayak in the Atlantic. After that experience, he spent many years investigating the physiology of muscle cramps. His explanation of TRP channels and their role is fascinating.

Learn More:

You can find several other remedies for leg cramps in our Guide to Leg Pain. On the other hand, you can find out about other popular home remedies in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. We write about reader favorites for many common problems, from allergies and nail fungus to heartburn and high cholesterol.

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  1. Cindy

    Only one person in this thread mentioned the homeopathic leg-cramp tablets that at least 2 companies offer. Hylands is the one I use when needed, and it works just fine. Of course, mustard and pickle juice work well too (also magnesium!), but the homeopathic tablets are neat, fast and convenient.

  2. Chris

    After hubby was seriously ill with cardiac and renal issues, he was on several diuretics that caused him to lose water like crazy, especially from his feet/legs. Multiple cramps each night. Bought him some tonic water, and the only time he’s had another cramp was when he forgot to take the tonic water before bed. Major relief for him. I’m an RN, and I read everything I could find on the TRP response.

  3. Chuck

    So, I occasionally get leg cramps at night, and hand cramps when driving long distances. I keep little packets of mustard in the bed stand and in the car. The mustard relieves the cramping in seconds… a wonderful solution!

  4. Dee

    I found Quinine on Amazon. I keep it in my night stand and do not have to get out of bed to drink pickle juice or take a spoon full of mustard. It works very fast with one pill under the tongue I roll over and back to sleep. Magnesium is a very good supplement too but sometimes I forget to take it.

  5. Debbie

    Leg cramps are often caused by a mineral deficiency. Most of us are deficient in magnesium.

    I started taking magnesium before bed and got instant relief from restless legs and cramping. I found that using a lotion with magnesium helps too.
    Calm Vitality is a great product-come in a lot of flavors and also helps relueve anxiety before bed.

    Dr. Caroline Dean is the expert on magnesium supplementation and she has a line of amazing products that are very pure and get absorbed rapidly on a cellular level. Magnesium isn’t just for leg cramping-there are over 50 conditions associated with magnesium deficiency.

  6. Patty

    Because using tonic water with quinine quickly stops leg cramps for me, and more quickly than the quinine in it can reach my muscles, I had a realization that it might work due to the bitter taste instead of in some theraputic manner at the cramp site. Mustard and pickle juice are also very tart and I’ve read how they can “reset” your brain, more or less, to stop the cramps.

    I think quinine works the same way. Some years ago, I discovered if I used very much tonic water, like 8 oz. per night, I would start seeing the same black spot for hours. I don’t think it “made” the black spot on my vision. I think it was already there, but somehow my brain covers it over and normally, I just don’t see it.

    I’ve found that even a few small sips of tart tonic water works for me. Pickle juice also works for me. Mustard gives me terrible indijestion, so I haven’t tried that one. Neither lavendar soap, nor Ivory, or any other soap works for me or the hub.

  7. Mike
    Maple Valley, WA

    I’ve had good success easing leg and hand cramps with magnesium oil. Available at any health food store or online it comes in a spray bottle. Spray a few squirts where the cramps occur and rub it in.

    I do it at bedtime to prevent being awakened by leg cramps. I also make a mixture of 70% DMSO and 30% water in a spray bottle and apply it after the magnesium oil to drive it deeper and faster into the muscle. Some people find the magnesium oil stings a bit but that usually only lasts a couple minutes.

  8. Ron

    250 Mg Magnesium daily eliminated my leg cramps.

  9. mary lou l w

    I take a multi with magnesium plus extra magnesium: citrate, aspartate and oxide. It’s cut and dried: If I take this there are NO muscle cramps. If I, for example travel for several days and forget to take the magnesium, I ALWAYS have screaming fits with leg and foot cramps that twist my toes and arch abnormally. 68 years, have had several “trials” missing the mag and no question, I must have that extra magnesium.

  10. Wendy

    I highly recommend HYlands leg cramp formula. It stops horrible foot and leg cramps within 1 or 2 minutes. Dissolves under the tongue quickly. It’s my little miracle.

  11. Ken
    Aldrich Missouri

    My wife, a former gymnast, has suffered from severe leg cramps for many years. Calf as well as thigh. The pickle juice treatment was of some help and we increased her naturally sourced potassium intake but the cramps kept coming. Then one day I was researching the subject after a particularly bad episode the night before and found this: an organic concoction of apple cider vinegar, ginger and garlic.

    We were both skeptical, but I am here to tell you this stuff works! Use either as a spot application when the cramp hits or smaller nightly doses as a preventative. Even walmart carries it so it is readily available in the US. Fair warning: the taste is horrible, try a shot of apple cider vinegar some time if you don’t believe me! She has been using it for over a year now and can’t imagine living without it!

  12. T. Pappas

    Awful nighttime leg cramps used to plague me. Now, I keep a plastic jar of plain yellow mustard in my night stand. (Even goes in to the suitcase when we travel.) It is squirted right into my mouth.

    If I can make it into the kitchen, ice packs help too. If I eat too many sweets, or carbs, right before bed, I’ll certainly have a big helping of mustard then. Good luck!

  13. Mary D

    Magnesium Oil helps with muscle spasms. You rub it on muscles and joints. You can make your own with Magnesium Chloride flacks!

    Taking Black Strap Molasses also good for leg cramps as well as Resless legs!

  14. Sue E.

    I finally found after trying many things that rubbing my lower limbs with body lotion then Pure Magnesium Oil, before going to bed is the best thing I have tried. I rarely get cramp now. This is also very good for aching sore joints too.

  15. Patricia R.
    Fayetteville NC

    When my husband gets a nighttime leg cramp he takes a teaspoon of yellow mustard, and that immediately gives him the relief he needs.

  16. Penelope

    Would the home remedies for leg cramps do the same as for menstrual camps?

  17. Susan
    Portland, OR

    I’m surprised there was no mention of magnesium. I started taking a Mg supplement for restless legs and found that it also helps with leg cramps and sleep. I usually take an extra capsule the night before an intense workout which helps prevent foot cramps.

  18. Barbara

    I have found that keeping myself hydrated seems to keep leg cramps at bay. I also have neck cramps that are really painful, and it’s difficult to try to find a way to stretch like you can with the legs. When I feel the early warning signs of a cramp forming I make it a point to drink extra water immediately, and it seems to calm the muscles down. Not sure if it works for others.

  19. Virginia

    My doctor was interested in the TPR channel connection, but he thought that pickle juice might have too much sodium, so I am still voting for yellow mustard. Easy to keep at bedside so you need no spoon nor have to get to the kitchen.

  20. Susan W.

    I take a tsp. of French’s yellow mustard at some point during the day, and my legs doesn’t cramp at night. This works for me. Sometimes I just put it on a sandwich or something.

  21. Frost

    My work requires that I need to hike long distances some days. After reading your column, I started to carry mustard packets from fast food restaurants in my pack. Although eating mustard would provide immediate relief, my legs would soon cramp up again. This was really a problem on a drive home, and I would be out of mustard and couldn’t walk or drive safely. Last summer, I remembered another of your remedies, soap peices! I slip some into my socks at the first sign of leg cramps, and the cramps are gone for the rest of the day.

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