Whether you are are running around a tennis court or spending a lot of time in the swimming pool, you might suffer a painful muscle cramp. Even if you are lying in bed at night, a leg cramp can hit without warning. How can you stop cramps quickly?
Stretching the muscle can sometimes do the job. Surprisingly, so can swallowing a spoonful of yellow mustard. We offer testimonials from readers, plus some scientific background to understand how this improbable remedy might work.
Yellow Mustard to Stop Cramps:
Q. I’ve gotten muscle cramps in my shins, of all places, for at least 20 years. I tried every conceivable fix without success. Then I heard about mustard on the People’s Pharmacy. Voilà! That was the answer!
Some people keep mustard packets in their nightstand. I just hobble to the kitchen cursing.
A. We first heard about this remedy for muscle cramps from a caller to our syndicated radio show. This person reported fast relief for nighttime leg cramps by swallowing a teaspoonful of yellow mustard.
Since then, we have heard from hundreds of other people who have found this remedy useful. One cyclist always carries packets of mustard on his long-distance races. If his legs start cramping, he sucks the mustard down while riding and is able to complete the ride.
Mustard Stops Cramps Fast!
Q. I’ve heard on your radio program that yellow mustard will stop cramps. I get leg cramps frequently. Usually I manage them by drinking tonic water and walking up and down the street late at night.
Last night at 11:00 pm I got leg cramps in both legs; one was on the upper thigh and the other was on the back of my thigh in the other leg. I could hardly wobble about.
That’s when I went out to my car to get one of those mustard packets from fast food places. I opened it up and squeezed it into my mouth. Honest — it stopped the cramps immediately!
How Does Yellow Mustard Work?
A. Thank you for sharing your success with yellow mustard. Some athletic trainers believe that mustard or pickle juice restores electrolytes like sodium and potassium. A study on this topic showed, however, that rebalancing electrolytes could not be the explanation (Journal of Athletic Training, May-June, 2014).
Another explanation was discussed in The Wall Street Journal (July 11, 2016). A neurobiologist has done research showing that pungent flavors like ginger, hot pepper or mustard flood the sensory neurons and overwhelm the misbehaving motor neurons responsible for muscle cramps. We spoke with his colleague Bruce Bean, PhD, in Show 1054: The Scientific Explanation for a Weird Remedy.
Although people have been swallowing mustard to stop cramps for a very long time, the explanation depends upon transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. Scientists started studying TRP seriously about two decades ago. In one placebo-controlled trial, athletes drank a fruit-flavored spicy beverage with hot pepper, cinnamon and ginger or a plain fruit-flavored drink as the placebo (Muscle & Nerve, Sep. 2017). Then they induced a muscle cramp. They found it more difficult to trigger a cramp if they drank the spicy beverage. In addition, they reported less muscle soreness after the cramp subsided.
Anyone who would like to learn more about remedies for muscle cramps and other common complaints may wish to read our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. There is also information on preventing cramps in our Guide to Leg Pain.