The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Does Pickle Juice Make Muscle Cramps Disappear?

The vinegar in pickle juice stimulates receptors in nerves that can override inappropriate contractions and make muscle cramps disappear.

As football teams gear up for practice, coaches around the country are stocking up on pickle juice. Why? Tradition has it that a gulp or two of pickle juice makes muscle cramps disappear. Now we have some understanding of the possible mechanism.

Pickle Juice Makes Muscle Cramps Disappear:

Q. I often get muscle cramps in my legs. I have found that drinking pickle juice relieves the cramps within a minute.

It doesn’t matter what kind of pickle juice-dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread-and-butter pickles. I’ve even used relish juice. I’ve recommended it to others who have used it with similar success.

A. Coaches have long relied on pickle juice to treat their players’ muscle cramps. We suspect that vinegar is the magic ingredient.

How Does Pickle Juice Work?

At one time, people thought muscle cramps were due to dehydration, potassium depletion or low magnesium. While those factors may make people more susceptible to cramps, the more recent hypothesis is that muscle cramps result from motor neurons firing uncontrollably.

Strong flavors like vinegar, ginger, hot peppers, mustard and quinine all stimulate receptors (TRP channels) that can override the inappropriate nerve firing. You will find other muscle cramp remedies and hundreds of additional simple treatments for common ailments in our book, Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I swear by pickle juice…works for me in under 30 seconds…I stock up at the dollar store…I also carry packets of pickle relish…in desperation I found it works the same..I will eat 2 or 3 just to be sure ive gotten enough juice.

I’m just starting to drink pickle juice for muscle cramps, and I do not know how much I should drink right before bed. At 3 in the morning it’s a life saver. But regularly, how much? Thanks

Yellow mustard really works for me plus it contains turmeric which gives it that bright yellow color.

I’m 70 years old and am on my feet standing at work all day so I experience severe leg cramps on those evenings.

For months, I used Natural Vitality Natural Calm, a relaxing magnesium supplement, and it worked very well, but then for whatever reason it stopped working plus it started giving me an upset stomach. The product used to be called Peter Gillham’s Calm. Perhaps there was a formulation change during the changeover.

Then I began taking Hyland’s Leg Cramps PM, and it only worked intermittently and after a while didn’t work at all. I visited my doctor and she suggested this product anyway, but said that I should include Tonic water because of the Quinine in it. On the first evening that I took both I experienced the worst case of night-time leg cramps ever!

I have a certified holistic nutritional therapist who I work with occasionally, and she sold me an electrolyte supplement called Electro-pH Complex (K-86) which worked very well, but only for about a week.

One afternoon I went into a convenience store and purchased a bottle of Neurobliss (http://www.drinkneuro.com/product/bliss/ I think this is only available out here in Southern California.) That night I had no leg cramps. I checked out the ingredients and found that it included Chamomile, which is a muscle relaxer. I began drinking a bottle of this at the end of each work day. I had no night-time leg cramps for a month! Unfortunately, as with all of the other remedies, the cramps returned last week, but very mildly so.

After all of that I went to a vein specialist and discovered that I have diseased valves in both legs (my varicose veins were a clue) that were probably causing the heaviness, pain and cramping in my legs, plus overall fatigue. I’m entertaining getting a procedure called ClosureFast, a endovenous radiofrequency ablation. I have one more visit with the doctor before I make a final decision. I suggest if anyone is interested to research it for fear that I may have misstated it.

Finally, regarding the pickle juice. My pharmacist actually recommended that. I laughed and made the sarcastic comment that it worked only because the taste distracted from the discomfort. I’m on a mini-vacation this week and will not be on my feet as much. After I return to work I’ll give the pickle juice a try and report back.

As a person who frequently gets cramps during the night, I welcomed the chance to try something natural….and, it has worked. But, to go even further, the other night I woke not with cramps but barely able to move with sciatic nerve pain and realized my knees were really aching….HARD!

It was late to be taking pain meds so I got up and tried a tablespoon of mustard. By the time I got back into bed I had no more pain, of any kind. Before reaching for any kind of medications for any kind of pain, I will first try my mustard. For me it has really worked wonders. Pat

Unfortunately, I’m one of those few Americans who detests yellow mustard, and Dijon and spicy mustard are only just okay. Turmeric, I’ve read, is in mustard and gives it its color. I take Turmeric supplements and use it on food as a spice. For me it has helped greatly with inflammation which in turn has helped with overall aches and pains, but unfortunately not with leg cramps. Don’t know if that actually contributed to the subject being discussed, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

Are the pickles to be dill?

I often carry small packets of mustard for fast food. When I get cramps outhiking, or driving home afterwards, I open one up and it keeps the cramps at bay. Carrying a jar of pickle juice is not practical, but a few mustard packets fit just about everywhere.

What causes motor neurons to fire uncontrollably?

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