The People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Does Mustard Relieve Muscle Cramps?

Have you ever wondered how could mustard relieve muscle cramps? We have a probable explanation that works through nerves and their receptors.

If you get nighttime leg cramps, you know how painful they can be. Whether it is your calf, your thigh or even the arch of your foot, you might jump out of bed yelling. You could stretch the offending muscle, hoping that it will relax. Or instead, you might swallow a teaspoonful of yellow mustard for quick relief. How does mustard relieve muscle cramps?

Will Dijon Mustard Relieve Muscle Cramps?

Q. You frequently mention yellow mustard (as well as pickle juice) as a possible remedy for muscle cramps. Is there something about yellow mustard in particular that seems to make it work, or would brown or spicy or coarse ground or country Dijon or honey mustard work as well?

A. There have been no scientific studies of any type of mustard to relieve muscle cramps. Hence, there is no way to judge whether Dijon mustard is better or worse than cheap yellow mustard.

We suspect that mustard works through the same mechanism as pickle juice, olive juice, vinegar, cinnamon or cayenne pepper. Mustard oils contain isothiocyanates that activate transient receptor potential (TRP) channels in sensory nerves in the skin, mouth, throat and stomach (Jordt et al, Nature, Jan. 15, 2004).  Stimulating these nerves sends out a signal that overrides the inappropriate hyperactivity of nerves causing muscle cramps (Craighead et al, Muscle & Nerve, Sept. 2017).

Learn More:

How could hot sauce or mustard relieve muscle cramps? The explanation of TRP channels and how they work, along with more about the science behind other home remedies, is in our eGuide to Favorite Home Remedies. You might also want to listen to Dr. Bruce Bean explain why and how he and his friend Dr. Rod McKinnon studied up on muscle cramps and how to relieve them. It is Show 1054: The Scientific Explanation for a Weird Remedy.

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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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To avoid painful trips to the kitchen, I’ve found keeping a small ice chest in my bedroom works to keep yellow mustard cool all night

I have pickle juice by my bed, but found that a packet of yellow mustard works much faster. I pick em up at the deli dept of my grocery store. Thought it was a crazy idea but hurt so much, decided to try it. It WORKED. Love that yellow mustard!

Plain yellow mustard has quickly stopped night-time muscle cramps for both my wife and I, and it feels like a life-saver with those middle of the night “attacks. Whenever I’m in a sandwich shop or take-out restaurant, I get extra little mustard packets to keep at bedside, since a jar of mustard in the kitchen just seems too far away when a cramp comes! I tear open, or preferably, cut the end off, and run my finger along the length of the packet towards my mouth, which very quickly gets the mustard-magic to do it’s work — “through the lips and over the gums, lookout cramp, here it comes!”

I have found leg cramps are helped a great deal by taking magnesium. For some people cramps are a sign of being low in the mineral. Hot spicy food like mustard may indeed contain magnesium, plus the hot spice may be helpful also.

I keep a small jar of apple cider vinegar by my bed. When I feel a cramp, I take a sip, and it is gone!

I have found that drinking a medium size glass of Original V8 juice before I go to bed gives me a night without cramps. When going on car trips I take small cans of it because I know I will have a foot cramp sometime during the trip. I do not know why but it works for me.

I have found that applying cold yellow mustard directly on the leg/foot that is cramping also works very well. Aside from smelling like a “hot dog”, I don’t have the mustard taste in my mouth. The bar soap under the bedsheets seems to work as well in reducing frequency of cramps.

One Calcium Magnesium pill every 2 or 3 weeks prevented severe leg cramps for me!!
This remedy has worked for me for the past 20 years.

I get hand cramps, sometimes so horribly painful I am screaming in agony. The yellow mustard works quickly, though I usually wind up chugging quite a bit in desperation. I have found that other mustards don’t work as well. The cheap yellow stuff if the ticket. I, too, would love to know what causes these cramps in the first place. They never happened when I was younger.

I tried mustard with pickle juice, olive juice, vinegar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
It did not work, only tasted very bad.

In my case it seems that the only remedy is drinking water, as my leg and foot cramps are brought on by dehydration, specially after a running day. I have tried Mustard, Tonic Water and Vinegar, to no avail.

I’ve had muscle cramps for years. I’m 76. I’ve tried all the remedies. I know that if I’m a little dehydrated that I am likely to get muscle cramps in the night. I really think it is the walk to the refrigerator to get the mustard or pickle juice that gets rid of the cramp. Drinking more water, tea, etc. during the day has been the best remedy for me.

I have tried all the suggestions mentioned here over the years, and nothing worked for long. I am now taking vitamin B12 at night and finally am able to sleep through the night. I don’t know why it works, but I am grateful.

I use bed soap. It works great and do not have anymore leg cramps for several years now.

The soap is a great help but not perfect. Yet, I still only occasionally have to get up and stand on my foot to stop a cramp.

I think the act of walking to the kitchen may be what does the trick, rather than what you swallow when you get there. If I get a calf cramp I get out of bed, stand up for a few seconds, and the pain goes away instantly.

Been using yellow mustard for a few years now and it works almost instantly in relieving muscle cramps of all kinds including serious and debilitating “Charlie horse” events. I’ve begun carrying a few yellow mustard packets in the car just in case.
The soap under the sheets trick is helpful to me but for what I believe is a different malady termed “restless leg”
The readers comment about trying mustard for migraine is interesting. I will tell our daughter who suffers regularly to try the yellow mustard…hopefully it will be helpful.

Impossible for me to walk to the kitchen or anywhere else when my hamstring muscle goes into spasm. Mustard or honey mustard gives relief within seconds, relaxation of the muscles in less than a minute.

Well believe it or not I use to have muscle cramps in my right calf and up into my right hamstring area,for about 2 years.Short story but I have found that 1/2 banana per day on and off stops it and it does not return. Best wishes from Australia.Keith.

Why not treat leg cramps with the Magnesium that your body is lacking? I used to get terrible Charlie Horses in my feed in bed if I stretched them too much. I started taking Magnesium for other reasons and a few weeks went by and it occurred to me that my feet didn’t cramp up anymore. I kept taking Magnesium and to this day I have no more foot cramps.

For us not just magnesium, but also potassium. Hence the bananas. My husband reduced his nightly leg cramps to occasional after adding potassium to his regimen. But for menstrual cramps, magnesium deficiency might be the cause. Check it out. Wish I’d known that 50 years ago–would have saved me 35 years of misery!

While having a game night with some friends I got a sudden charlie horse in my thigh – seems to happen some times when some sensitive spot in my thigh is touched off by the edge of the chair. Anyway, I dashed for the fridge and swallowed a spoonful of yellow mustard. Did the cramp go away? Nope. I walked it out eventually and had to contend with the mustard aftertaste without an accompanying hot dog.

After suffering through frequent inner thigh cramps brought on by Just pointing my toes toward the mattress when stretching, I put a small closed container of yellow mustard by my bed. The cramps were so painful I couldn’t stand up, much less walk. Letting a fingertip full of mustard melt in my mouth for a few seconds brings me quick relief. Thanks, Peoples Pharmacy! My cramps now occur less often and I’ve been sharing this PP post with all my friends.

I have been using yellow mustard for years to stop cramps. It works!

My daughter used to get leg cramps every night in bed. I put magnesium gel all over her legs before bed, and after a month of this she was freed.

A Nobel prize winner started a company several years ago, HotShot, devoted to this theory. I’ve been taking it for years. Check out Team Hot Shot or articles in the Wall Street Journal and other magazines. He also has studies although you say there are none.

After many, many years of being awaken almost nightly by leg cramps and being awakened as many as five times a night and also doing every….I respecifully say….. “voodoo” procedure I could find, I gave up and called my internist.

We are experimenting with the drug, Tizanidine in a minimal dosage. Yes, there is a warning for liver complications. So far so good after three weeks. Is amazing to go to sleep and not be awaken.

Otherwise I am in excellent health and live a very active life….except when I am without sleep!!!!

Pickles work the same way. My wife gets bad leg cramps every few weeks or so, and eating a pickle stops it almost immediately.

Thanks to your advice, I’ve successfully used mustard to relieve leg cramps for sometime. But while searching for something for prevention, I’ve found that sipping a 1/2 tablespoon of cider vinegar (undiluted) before bedtime works-probably the same mechanism.

“…Whether it is your calf, your thigh or even the arch of your foot, …”
What about the 4th toe, right foot?

Both my wife and I get periodic cramps in that toe and the muscles leading to it. If ignored, it may progressively lead to cramps in the other parts mentioned. Both foot-on-floor and mustard treatments work to end it.

What’s so special about that particular toe? A major nerve? A meridian? other? I’ve not yet ruled out sympathy pain.

I tried your remedy with regular yellow mustard last week. It worked instantly with just a dab of mustard, not even a teaspoonful. Thanks for the advice!

I experienced extremely painful muscle cramps two nights ago. It was the muscle above my shin in the front of my leg, and it pulled my foot up so tight I couldn’t walk or stretch it out at first. I finally made it to the kitchen and took a swallow of vinegar. Either it helped or it was finally relaxing on its own, but I was able to get back to bed. I just barely got to sleep when it cramped up again about an hour later. This time I limped to the kitchen and swallowed mustard. The cramp went away, and I went back to bed. An hour later it was back. This went on all night, and by early morning it was cramping up continuously, about every twenty minutes. It would be nice to figure out what caused it in the first place, and to find a cure that would last!

The cure that has lasted for me is magnesium. Pickle juice and mustard worked for me but it meant I had to be able to walk to the kitchen, which was extremely difficult with a cramp. After hearing about magnesium I started keeping a bottle of it and a glass of water on my nightstand. Usually within 30 seconds the cramp was relieved. Now I just take 250 mg of cheap magnesium daily and have not had a leg cramp in a couple of years.

could it be lack of magnesium? might check that out….

Does cinnamon work as well as mustard (re: article above). If so, it is much better than mustard to eat. What does cinnamon contain as compared to mustard?

I get severe muscle cramps and discovered it was due to low calcium. I take calcitriol and calcium chews twice a day and the cramps are gone.

Any thoughts if mustard might help neuropathy? My 89 year old Mom deals with a lot of pain in her feet from peripheral neuropathy from overuse of PPIs. The Quell Pain Relieving Band has helped some. When she used it 24/7 it seemed to help her knee pain but exacerbate the PN. She is using Quell 3x a day now and is feeling reduced pain everywhere. So it has helped, but she still feels the stinging in her feet. I know PN is a nerve thing. Just wanted thoughts on if TRP channels have anything to do with PN and if mustard might help.

I have had great success with yellow mustard and dill pickle juice for leg cramps. I have even had luck with the “preemptive strike” of taking mustard or a sip of pickle juice before going to bed.

I first read about the yellow mustard remedy on The People’s Pharmacy website about two years ago. I had suffered with bad night time calf, thigh, and foot cramps that woke me several times each month for a number of years and had tried everything I knew about with very little to no relief.

It wasn’t long after I read about the yellow mustard remedy that I had the opportunity to experience for myself it’s effectiveness. Awakened by horrible calf & foot cramps, I hobbled out to the kitchen and took a Tbsp of yellow mustard, hoping and praying for some relief. Voila! In about 2-3 minutes the cramps were gone! Not only have the cramps been relieved each time I’ve used the yellow mustard but, for me, the muscle cramps are less frequent. I don’t know if others have experienced a decrease in the frequency of cramps but would love to know if others have noted that change.

I’ve also noted that I don’t need to take a Tbsp. I have the same relief using a tsp full. (It’s not the best tasting for sure but I can handle it knowing the immediate, economical, relief I’ll get). Thanks, PP.

I have experienced leg and foot cramps at night in bed, usually when I stretch or move a leg. One seems to activate the other. Tried soap under the sheets, didn’t help, but that could be because I didn’t think it would–that old mind-over-body idea. I find that a squirt of yellow mustard once I can hobble to the refrigerator does the trick within seconds. Nothing like success to reinforce an idea.

Has anyone tried using mustard or one of these other substances to see it they will interfere with the nerve transmissions causing migraines?

I learn something new every day!

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