Does Mustard Actually Cure Muscle Cramps?

Do you get charley horses or other serious muscle cramps at work or during your exercise routine? Maybe you’ve tried soaking in the bath, using a hot water bottle or other home remedies with no success. Unexpected and unwelcome muscle cramps plague everybody’s existence, whether professional athletes or construction workers. Muscle cramps have been occurring since as long as people have been exercising.

What is the secret remedy that you can apply every time? Yellow mustard! The little yellow packets will suffice. Keep them on hand in your car or purse so that they are always in reach when you need them. It works within two minutes and feels like a miracle.

The Science Behind Muscle Cramps

Tell this to a doctor and they will roll their eyes and mumble something about home remedies and old wives tales. However, it works time and time again and scientists have researched why. When scientists electrically induced muscle cramps in research participants and then gave them mustard juice or pickle juice, they found that both mustard and pickle juice relieve cramps within minutes.

For decades, athletic trainers and medical doctors believed that muscle cramps occur because of dehydration or electrolytic imbalance. Magnesium supplements, salt pills, electrolytes or increasing potassium through eating bananas was often recommended. One group of scientists tested participants’ electrolytic balance before and after two hours of exercise. They discovered no change in electrolytic balance in blood samples due to the ingestion of either mustard or pickle juice.

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Nobel prize winning scientist Rod MacKinnon, MD from Rockefeller University and his colleague Bruce Bean, PhD from Harvard University, are neurobiologists and kayaking enthusiasts. During one sea kayaking trip they developed debilitating muscle cramps. Due to this experience and the danger of not being able to return to land, they decided to devote themselves to understand the cause of such muscle cramps and look for a new way to prevent them.

When the muscles are functioning normally, you can exercise for hours without a hitch. When you decide that you want to move, your brain simply sends a signal to nerve cells in your spinal cord which then communicate with your muscles. The muscles contract, and you start to move.

By observing this pattern of communication and reaction you can deduce that muscle cramps don’t occur on their own. When you experience a muscle cramp, you were already moving forward and then suddenly all action is brought to an abrupt and screaming halt. Even after the cramp subsides you experience a lingering soreness or paralysis. You might feel like you should have eaten, hydrated or stretch better to prepare yourself more for your race, kayaking trip or workout. If muscle cramps are caused by undernourishment and weary muscles, then why do they sometimes occur when we are just lying in bed, or even in the first minute of a race?

A New Approach to Healing Muscle Cramps

These two scientists found that it is not dehydration or electrolytic imbalance that causes the cramps. Also, it’s not the muscle that causes the cramping; it’s the nerve. A misfiring of the nerves causes muscle cramps. MacKinnon and Bean decided to examine the activity of motor neurons that send electrical impulses to the muscles. They found that cramps actually occur as a result of hyper-excited alpha motor neurons.

Dr. MacKinnon hypothesized that if he were able to activate sensory fibers in the mouth and esophagus that pass on the signal to the nervous system, it would calm down the spinal cord and overexcited alpha motor neurons and thereby diminish the muscle cramp. When you ingest extremely spicy food, it overloads nerve receptors, resulting in a numbing effect similar to brain freeze. Dr. MacKinnon first studied himself by electrically inducing himself with muscle cramps and drinking spicy and acidic drinks concocted in his own kitchen. Later he conducted laboratory studies with many participants and presented his results at conferences of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Sports Medicine. During his studies participants ingested a spicy drink before engaging in vigorous exercise. The result was a decrease in the frequency and duration of muscle cramps.

Spicy Drinks Relieve Muscle Cramps

Following the release of this research, Dr. MacKinnon began working with entrepreneur Christoph Westphal to launch the biotech company Flex Pharma. Flex Pharma specializes in producing innovative treatments for neuromuscular disorders. Their most popular product for athletes is called Hotshot, a specially formulated drink of cinnamon, ginger and spicy capsicum pepper. Drinking this before a workout reduces the frequency of cramps. Prompted by MacKinnon’s research and production of this drink, there has been a wave of new research into the origin and prevention of muscle cramps. Performers, athletes, trainers, and laymen now have easily accessible information about the root cause of muscle cramps and how to prevent them.

Other Remedies for Muscle Cramps

Muscle Cramp Relief

  1. First you want to try stretching (as shown in the video above)
  2. Keep hydrated and drink plenty of water
  3. Eating bananas help prevent leg cramps
  4. Taking a magnesium or magnesium and calcium supplement
  5. Also take CoQ10 supplement to prevent
  6. A very effective and proven prescription medication is quinine sulfate to completely eliminate leg cramps
  7. You can also drink a half of glass of tonic water (it’s high in quinine) and you can get relief in 3-4 minutes
  8. You can take a teaspoon of mustard or drink an ounce of pickle juice
  9. Lastly many people recommend placing a bar of soap under your sheets at the foot of your bed to relieve cramps