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Reader suggestions to help stop cramping

Posted on July 10 2014 by Pat Killingsworth | 2,021 views

A loyal reader recently asked me to participate in an off-the-cuff, impromptu experiment.  Justin had noticed that I had been having trouble with cramps at night.  An avid runner, apparently he’s often plagued by cramps, too.

My cramping usually begins at 4 or 5 am, most always in my right calf and shin.  By now I’ve tried just about everything for my cramps; drinking lots of tonic water, taking potassium.  Chewing a couple Tums may or may not help.  I’ve even tried the old “soap under the bedsheets” trick.  Rubbing magnesium oil on my lower leg seems to improve things after I’m already awake and have hobbling around in the early morning hours for ten minutes or so, trying to walk them off.  I do know that if I didn’t drink a lot of diet tonic water (quinine), they would be a lot worse.

Anyway, Justin wanted me to try two things at the first sign of cramps.  First, drinking some pickle juice–I had heard about this home remedy before.  The second suggestion was swallowing a couple tablespoons full of mustard.

Here’s an excerpt from the email he sent me:

crampingThe current theory (and the only one that passes the litmus test for me) is that there are receptors for either salt (even though we know that most cramping is NOT due to low electrolytes) or acetyl-choline (acetic acid is a shared ingredient between both the pickle juice and mustard and is used in the manufacturing of the muscle neurotransmitter), and this causes the brain to “reset” the muscle that is spasming. There are few other viable explanations because the cramp releases before any normal biological absorption and delivery to the muscle could have occurred.

So would you be willing to test this hypothesis out? Keep an ounce or two of pickle juice by your bed (or somewhere it can easily be accessed when you typically get cramps), or the aforementioned packet or two of mustard (much easier to stomach and portable; that is if you like mustard).  At best you find a new “cure,” at worst you can curse my name while having a bad taste in your mouth!

So what did I learn?

Drinking pickle juice made me nauseous.  And it didn’t help the cramping.  I only tried that once.  But mustard did seem to help.  Not instantaneously, but the several times I’ve tried it my cramps eased sooner than if I had just grit my teeth and tried to tough-it-out.

Honestly, drinking a tall glass of water seems to help as much as anything.  If nothing else it prevents a second round of cramping before I have to get up again to go to the bathroom!   Still not enough?  Substitute diet tonic water with a couple of Tums chasers.

Bon appetit!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat

13 Comments For This Post

  1. JustinS Says:

    Hi Pat! Sorry the suggestions didn’t work like the magic I had read about. What the only reliable actual study I’ve been able to find did not result in instantaneous relief it did significantly shorten the length of cramping (which it seems like correlates with your experience).

    I have a race this Saturday that will definitely threaten a cramp with the terrain and hot/humid weather and will be my own test subject by carrying a couple mustard packets on me in case of distress. Hopefully I don’t have to use them, but if I do I’ll report back with some results.

    Here is a link to the study I was referencing:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19997012

  2. Pat Killingsworth Says:

    Thanks, Justin!

  3. Sheri from Idaho Says:

    Pat, sorry the pickle juice made you nauseous. I have found that to be a great rememdy for me. My cramps are usually while I am sleeping. and now that I’m off of the dialysis machine, I can get to the frig in the middle of the night! Haven’t tried the mustard theory, yet. Might have to take mustard packets on my bike ride Saturday and give it a try! There is a football player on our Boise State team that has pickle juice on the sidelines, in case of cramps. And I’ve seen him drinking it.

  4. Sheri from Idaho Says:

    Pat, sorry the pickle juice made you nauseous. I have found that to be a great remedy for me. My cramps are usually while I am sleeping. and now that I’m off of the dialysis machine, I can get to the frig in the middle of the night! Haven’t tried the mustard theory, yet. Might have to take mustard packets on my bike ride Saturday and give it a try! There is a football player on our Boise State team that has pickle juice on the sidelines, in case of cramps. And I’ve seen him drinking it.

  5. Ron Harvot Says:

    As an avid cyclist most of my bike rallies have pit stops that carry dill pickles and pickle juice. They also have Gatorade or similar sports drinks that have electrolytes in them. Cramping in the sports world is caused by dehydration, muscle fatigue or a combination of both. When I am doing a 100k or 100 mile ride I try to consume 12 oz of fluid every 30 min and more when it is hot. (Live in Texas and it gets plenty hot!). I also swallow a couple of electrolyte pills every hour as well as eat something every hour. At the end of a long hot ride it is normal for my biking shorts to show white salt marks from my perspiration. That is why electrolytes have to be replaced. The pickle juice and mustard have salt and some other electrolytes in them. So drinking it or swallowing mustard is no better than drinking Gatorade IMO. The Quinine water falls into this same catagory. Normally the athletic cramps occur either during the event itself or shortly after you conclude, as the muscles are tired and spasm. They can occur later at night but once you have re-hydrated they normally don’t recur.

    Cramps from MM treatments are different. My cycling cramps have been primarily in my quads which are the muscles I use to pedal the bike the most. My cramps from treatments have occurred in the evening in my calves usually following a velcade injection earlier that day. Mine are hit and miss and not very frequent. What I have noticed is that if I hydrate, (drink a lot of water), the day before my shot and continue to drink during the day I receive it, the cramps are less likely to occur. That is the same hydration method I use for biking. So although the cramps from the treatment target different muscles than my biking there does appear to be a link to hydration. This may also explain why after you have had a cramp and drink water it doesn’t come back or goes away faster. Try preventative hydration.

  6. Jeff Wyant Says:

    For what it is worth there is a product called Cramp 911 that I can only find at Walgreens. It is a roll on that is applied on the cramping muscle. It relaxes the muscle and for me keeps the cramp from returning. It may work for others as well.

  7. Pat Killingsworth Says:

    Glad pickle juice worked for you, Sheri! Maybe I should give it another try. Sounds like Ron agrees with my hydrating solution. And I’ve heard good things about Cramp 911, Jeff. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Nick Says:

    Pat –

    I thought you had tried magnesium supplements in the past but didn’t see them on your list? If you haven’t tried this, you might give it a shot. It worked for me — I went from a nightmarish 4am wake up screaming in agony cramp about every two weeks to about every six months.

    I started with 1500mg of magnesium daily; that worked but it is trouble for the GI system. So I tapered it down until I was using the lowest effective dose which was 750mg a day. I took them all at once, I didn’t stagger it out — maybe that would have been a better idea.

    Anyhow, just a thought! :)

  9. Pat Killingsworth Says:

    I have and I do and I did! YES! I take four magnesium tabs am and four PM; as much as I can without developing a super soft stool. But with the oxycodone I take (binds things up) I can take high doses. Very inexpensive. Helps my PN, too!

  10. Lyn Says:

    Hi Pat, a day late and a dollar short here, but I noticed that you mentioned you were drinking diet tonic water. Could it be making you dehydrated? Diet drinks have a way of really depleting you. Have you tried just regular tonic water?

    Good luck!

    Lyn

  11. Pat Killingsworth Says:

    Then I’d have to deal with blood sugar spikes; I’m a strict low carb guy. I drink plenty of everything, but you make a good point, Lyn. Sure a lot of things to consider, aren’t there?

  12. JustinS Says:

    Hi Pat,

    I saw this pop up in the random article spot at the top of your site and wanted to give an update (or rather lack of update). I have had 2 races since this post and fortunately for me (but not for the hypothesis) I haven’t suffered from any cramps yet. Next Saturday, though, it will be a foregone conclusion. The toughest thing I’ve ever done is on the horizon and there is very real chance of a DNF and for sure some major cramping opportunities.

    For the previous 2 races I’ve had my mustard packets on hand but have had no need to use them. Next Saturday I’m sure I’ll be the test subject on more than one occasion. :)

  13. Pat Killingsworth Says:

    Talk about ways to keep moving! I’m blown away! A two mile walk on the beach and I do a celebratory dance! Best of luck; must be no myeloma holes in your racing bones!

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