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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 and may be more readily available.
Pickle Relish Will Do in a Pinch Against Leg Cramps
White dish of pickle relish on white background

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.

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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