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Pickle Relish Will Do in a Pinch Against Leg Cramps

Pickle juice is a classic home remedy for painful leg cramps, but pickle relish is an acceptable substitute.

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? One reader says plain vinegar, without the pickles, works against nighttime leg cramps.

Apple Cider Vinegar to Prevent Foot and Leg Cramps:

Q. For years, I suffered for with painful foot and leg cramps. These excruciating spasms often woke me from sleep. No amount of walking and stretching would help.
I read about apple cider vinegar and decided to try swallowing a shot an hour before bedtime. I followed this with 200 mg of magnesium capsules. The pain diminished immediately, and now most of the time I sleep through the night.

If you try this, be sure to rinse your mouth out thoroughly after taking the vinegar, and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. This is a miracle combo that I will never go without!

A. There are few things more disruptive than being wakened by a muscle cramp. It can be hard to get back to sleep after such a painful experience.

Many readers have reported that magnesium supplements can be helpful for both easing insomnia and preventing muscle spasms. This approach is not appropriate for anyone with compromised kidney function.

Vinegar appears to be a popular cramp remedy. Pickle juice or yellow mustard also work quickly to ease muscle contractions. Even pickle relish may help! Your advice about rinsing immediately and waiting before brushing your teeth is helpful. Acids like lemon juice, vinegar or, of course, pickle juice can soften the enamel temporarily, making it vulnerable to injury if brushed right away.

You can learn more about preventing or treating muscle cramps and overcoming insomnia in our eGuides to Favorite Home Remedies and Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.

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). These transient receptor potential channels 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.

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.

Beyond Mustard and Pickle Relish:

You don’t have to stick with hot dog condiments to ease nighttime leg cramps. Several readers have found other ingenious remedies for this problem. Here’s just one:

Q. You have written about using mustard and dill pickle juice for leg cramps. I use a mix of honey and apple cider vinegar and it works quickly.

My favorite thing to use for leg cramps, though, is glycerin. It also gives quick results. I just rub it on the muscle and within minutes the cramp is gone.

A. We have heard from a few other readers that applying glycerin purchased at the drugstore can relieve muscle cramps.

One wrote:

“I even experimented by leaving one leg untreated; ouch, it cramped! Glycerin has been working for me about a year now.”

We could not find scientific studies of glycerin to prevent or treat nighttime leg cramps. However, we appreciate the experimental mindset of our readers. Topical glycerin is affordable and available without a prescription. If you don’t care for mustard or pickle relish, you might want to try it.

Learn More:

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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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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