stop a muscle cramp

Q: What can I do to stop a muscle cramp (Charlie Horse)?

Ugh! I hate when I get a cramp so I thought I’d share remedy this with you to stop a muscle cramp.

Q: What can I do to stop a muscle cramp (Charlie Horse)?

A: Eat mustard.  Plain, yellow mustard by the packet or spoonful.  Serious.  Is this gross?  Yes, and that’s why it works*.  Muscle cramps happen when the nerves that control that muscle turn all the way on and stay on.  The mustard speeds up** the rate at which those nerves calm down because it is noxious (or awful).  It’s sorta, kinda like frightening someone with hiccups to get rid of them.

*Technically it is the “noxious taste” of the acetic acid (vinegar’s acid) that stimulates the TRP channels in the back of your mouth that get the overactive alphamotor neurons in the cramping muscles to calm down.    

**The cramp will go away about 37% faster with mustard or pickle juice than without.

Why do we get muscle cramps?

There seem to be 3 reasons: (1) intolerance, (2) hours of sweating + plain water, (3) we don’t know.

1. Intolerance

Our muscles (and the brain + nerves that control them) adapt to what we do and to what we avoid.  One frustrating thing about studying muscle cramps is that by the time a researcher has induced 4 cramps in someone’s calf it gets near impossible to get it to cramp again.  It’s like working out in that what once was overwhelming becomes medium-easy with repetition.

If we avoid the ranges of motion that tend to cause cramps then we tend to stay susceptible to them. This mostly applies to cramps during activity or exercise vs the ones that wake you up at night.

2. Hours of Sweating + Plain Water

We humans did not evolve in a world of running water or hydration IV drips, so our bodies can handle quite a bit of fluid loss.  Our bodies do have limits.  To reach those limits requires hours of sweating (losing 5+ pounds) and drinking only plain water and avoiding salt.

3. We Don’t Know

Researchers who study muscle cramps call them “generally unpredictable.”  To study what is helpful requires being able to reliably trigger them to test remedies, and that’s a big problem that nobody has solved. 

Electrical stimulation cranked all the way up works, but then it doesn’t.  The same is true for dehydration and for holding muscles at their shortest position.

Lastly, the fact that all cramps go away on their own makes it even more difficult to test what works and what doesn’t.

Bottom line

If you ever sweat, then you need some salt in your diet; and if you never work hard enough to sweat, then that is worth changing.  Plain old yellow mustard, pickle juice and other vinegar based condiments (hot sauce) will help your muscle cramps go away faster.  They will also go away on their own, but sooner is better. 

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