I've had problems with leg cramps for most of my life, constantly being awakened by them and constantly trying to find a cure.
I am a fairly young male (currently 24), but I've had problems with cramps in my calves for most of my life—constantly being woken up by them and constantly trying to figure out a way to just get rid of them forever. During my search, I realized that the market for various leg cramp remedies and products is, not surprisingly, a bit biased when it comes to opinions.
The following information is intended for individuals who are looking for a real solution to their leg cramps. I will be going over every over-the-counter remedy, technique, trick, fix, and flop that I've learned about in my struggle. I will give you my honest opinion and some technical information on the pros and cons of each of them. More importantly, I will point you in the direction of the stuff that actually works—and hopefully save the day (or night) for a few of you.
Tricks, Techniques, and Home Remedies
Let's get started with the easy stuff: home remedies and quick, fix-it tricks.
Bar of Soap Under the Bed
Doing a quick search for leg cramps on Google will likely lead you to one website or another that mentions something about a bar of Ivory soap being placed underneath the sheets in your bed to prevent your legs from cramping. Sound weird? It is. This is a technique that is known by quite a few people all over the internet, but there has yet to be any sort of evidence or even much of a proposed reason as to why it works.
The soap puts something in the air? From under your sheets? I don't know, but I was putting soap under my bed for two months and must have gotten at least nine charley horses during that time, so I would certainly conclude that it doesn't work—at least not for everyone.
How many reasons do you have to drink pickle juice right from the jar? Well, it could depend on how many muscle cramps you have. There are numerous videos on Youtube and quite a few other websites that either show or talk about someone drinking pickle juice to stop a cramp. In fact, a recent study on pickle juice showed that drinking regular pickle juice was able to stop a cramp about 37% faster than drinking water does. Unfortunately, this is still quite a bit of cramping for the athlete or individual who is experiencing the muscle cramp. These same studies went on to discover quite a few more interesting things about muscle cramping and disprove some previously agreed upon ideas in the scientific and medical worlds, but not coming to any definite conclusions. So, now, the world is just not sure.
What is pickle juice exactly? Well, the correct term for it would be brine, which is a solution of sodium and water. Which is, by chance, a whole lot like the electrolytes that popular sports drinks include in their formulas: an electrolyte is also a solution of (usually) sodium in water. Wikipedia both of these terms and see for yourself. One might conclude that drinking pickle juice might work as fast as a sports drink would, which might work as fast as some chicken noodle soup would, which might work as fast as just stirring salt into water and drinking it.
One interesting aspect of pickle juice that is absent in other electrolyte or salt-infused drinks is vinegar. While vinegar actually might be a home remedy of its own, I will only be covering it briefly right here as it is present in quite a few other things. This might be why sports coaches are leaning more towards pickle juice for dealing with cramps and using sports drink only as what they are: a drink!
We've finally got some color in our list, and it's an off-yellow. Mustard has long been praised as the miracle cure for leg cramps, and there are a few possible reasons as to why. First of all, there is sodium in mustard, which brings us back to the pickle juice and sports drinks. Another possibility that has been brought up is the fact that the turmeric that is added to mustard for coloring has anti-inflammatory properties. Also, you can find vinegar in mustard, which might be the reason why people are amassing mustard packets on their nightstand to sleep through the night without cramping up.
This one isn't quite as crazy, and I'm not sure if you could necessarily call it a trick or a home remedy, but stretching out your muscles on a regular basis can do a whole lot of good for people whose muscles tend to cramp up more than they'd like them to. I'll go a bit further into why exactly this is.
Stretching is something that your muscles are meant to do on a regular basis, and they require this activity in order to get stronger or just stay healthy. You already know that a muscle that you work out or use all the time is going to get bigger, but working out or stretching a muscle is also a way for oxygen and blood to travel through all of the tissue in your muscles and deliver essential nutrients that they need to work properly.
Now this is a particularly interesting one. Castor oil, which is commonly used in food additives, plastics, and quite a few other industrial creations, is used to relieve cramps in the abdomen and other parts of the body by some. From what I've read, you apparently need cold-pressed castor oil, which you then have to soak a shirt with and heat in the microwave. I'm really not sure what the meaning of all this is, and I am just really not willing to try this one at all, even just for the sake of review.
I think the most popular use for castor oil was initially muscle pains as it is present in some lotions intended for this, but it appears that this somehow translated into it being effective at stopping muscle cramps over the many years that it has been around. Castor oil was first used as a laxative or purgative that people would ingest for digestive issues, and has about 101 other uses that seems to have turned this biodegradable oil into a cure-all of sorts.
There's nothing like the smell of rubbing alcohol in the morning, or in the middle of the night when a cramp strikes. If you really don't care what you smell like, you just might be dousing your muscles with rubbing alcohol every time you get a cramp. This is one home remedy that I would discourage, and there are quite a few reasons.
Rubbing alcohol has been used by people with arthritis to relieve soreness in their bones and muscles with some success reportedly, but there are also quite a number of problems that rubbing alcohol can cause when applied to the skin, especially if done on a regular basis. Dermatitis or rashes, irritation, and severe dryness and redness are a few of the things you might experience. I read that children who have fevers can actually receive alcohol poisoning from having it rubbed on their skin. This seems to be a very exact set of requirements, but when I read something like this I assume that it really is dangerous for people of all ages.
Quinine (Tonic Water)
The "tonic" that you might find in a gin and tonic was once believed to be the true cure for leg cramps and was prescribed by doctors all around the world. They didn't prescribe tonic water, but instead a pill of quinine, which is found in tonic water. Unfortunately, it has found to be simply not true. Further testing showed that the quinine actually did not lessen or decrease the amount/intensity of cramping by any discernible amount: it didn't work!
To make matters even worse, the magic ingredient found in tonic water that was believed to have finally defeated the dreaded charlie horse was also found to cause a very deadly blood disease in some people. Scary! No testing has ever been done to see if tonic water has this same deadly effect, but it can easily be understood by reading the label that tonic water certainly does contain quinine.
Magnesium, Calcium, and Potassium
I get into this subject in a bit more detail in another article, so I won't spend too much time here. One thing I will say is that I would always recommend that you try to get most, if not all, of your nutrients naturally from the things you eat—not from a pill. With that being said, all three of the above-listed things have been somehow tied in to the cramping of muscles by one scientist or another. Nothing is really for sure, but if your diet is lacking magnesium, calcium, or potassium, you may realize that your cramps occur much less if you simply start eating more things that contain these three nutrients. Before incorporating any supplements into your daily routine, please check with a licensed medical professional regarding your condition and medical history.
Hyland's Leg Cramps
You can find this stuff at your local Walgreens. I was baffled by this at first, but it turns out that Hyland's actually relies on quinine. Not the same manufactured or "allopathic" quinine that was found in the quinine pills of the past, but quinine nonetheless. The homeopathic quinine that they use is prepared from "quinine bark" taken from the Cinchona tree, and does not fall under the regulations by the FDA placed on quinine sulfates and salts of quinine. Due to this, this product has been successfully sold over the counter since 1994 without any problems.
Most of this information was taken from their website; you can check it out for yourself. I know that studies conducted on quinine found it to be ineffective at stopping or preventing muscle cramps, so I don't see why this stuff would be any different. Regardless, there are countless mixed reviews about this product circulating - some praise its magical abilities and some say it doesn't do anything.
With large distributors, products tend to have an easier time appealing to people. Also, this product is not safe for kids, and as my rule goes, I assume that it isn't really all that safe for anybody.
Stops Leg Cramps
This is a product that was recommended to me by the owner of a natural health store near my home. He told me that it was one of their highest resellers and it works for lots of people, so I gave it a try. It was a home remedy that Amish people came up with, and the ingredients it contained were a bit different from what I was starting to get accustomed to. Just three: raw apple cider vinegar, juice from the ginger root, and liquidated, odorless garlic.I thought it was very interesting that this product also contained vinegar, and am now pretty certain that vinegar does indeed help somehow.
Another interesting thing about this product is that apple cider vinegar contains just about every mineral and nutrient that I've ever heard to cause or prevent muscle cramping. potassium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, fluorine, and silicon are all present in apple cider vinegar, and garlic and ginger contain a ton of good stuff, too. Even if this stuff didn't work, it'd probably still be really good for you.
I first assumed that you were only supposed to take it when you got an actual cramp, so I did this with a pretty good effect. As it says, it took less than 60 seconds for a spontaneous cramp to stop.
That was all good and well, but I did some investigating on their website when it was almost time to buy another bottle and discovered that you can actually take it to prevent cramps as well and various athletes are already using it for that purpose. I'm no athlete, but I gave it a try to started drinking a dose on certain days when I was going to be doing a lot of walking or when it was hot as this is when I usually cramp up.
It seemed to work pretty well, but it took me another two bottles before I was finally convinced that it was working and not just my body stopping it on its own or some sort of placebo effect. At this point, I can definitely say with confidence that this stuff works well. Maybe not for everyone, but it has worked amazingly for me.
I haven't seen this stuff around, but I did a quick search for other remedies I might have missed out on in an effort to make this article as complete as possible and stumbled across this stuff. It is apparently pretty new, and employs a type of magnesium that is more easily absorbed by the body. The funny thing about this stuff is that they call it a "cure" when you have to take these pills every day for (presumably) the rest of your life. There are also a few bad reviews online, as there are with just about everything.
The scientific stuff behind this product goes as follows: monomagnesium malate is the active ingredient, which is made by combining magnesium with malic acid. Pure magnesium supplements sometimes act as laxatives and go straight through the body without being absorbed, and doing this synthesizing to the magnesium essentially prevents the magnesium from going straight through your body. So, it's an improved magnesium supplement.
This doesn't sound all that bad, but magnesium that you find in green leafy plants, nuts, seeds, tofu, chocolates, and a number of other foods can be readily absorbed by your body, and they also fill you up! Why not save all the money on the pills and pay for healthy food to fill your house with? To be fair, I'd like to ask that anyone who has found success with this remedy leave a comment below and let us know your situation and how it worked for you. Until then, I remain a skeptic.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Barbara on September 29, 2018:
My blood test indicated my magnesium level is very high and I have been experiencing leg cramping really bad when I am sleeping. I don’t take magnesium pills or over eat on magnesium containing foods. My kidney is just Ok after stopping Nsids etc. wonder why I experience this cramping when magnesium level is high. Could this be causing the cramps?
Bill on January 04, 2018:
One other factor to add. Avoid alcohol. I get cramps when I drink even a couple.
gretchen t horton on August 27, 2017:
I am 84 years and have struggled with cramps since youth, although they have become much more painful in the last several years. And I mean SCREAMING PAIN that attacks when I am driving, sitting too long and of course, at night. I have cramps in my abdomen, hands, neck, and of course feel, ham strings and inner thighs. I took quinine for years - and consequently lost the vision in one eye. )~; so had to stop that. Right now I am taking Magnesium Malate -(it does not affect my GI tract), with Vitimin D3 (5000 IU) twice a day, as well as potassium, calcium, and biotin once a day. All of a sudden I am experiencing relief! Up until about a week ago, I was downing "Pickle Juice" (that's the name of a product and not out of the jar) once or twice a day, especially before bed time. I am hopeful! Will continue and see if this works. These is some evidence that D3 and Magnesium work together.
Laurie poris on January 07, 2017:
I have been applying Magnesium Oil to my calves whenever they cramp. When it is real bad I may have to apply 2 or 3 times, but it always does the trick. I give the stuff out as gifts to friends and family who also suffer and they also report success. There are several different brands available on amazon. I apply lotion first as it may cause itching.
Les on November 28, 2016:
Tried MG Bright magnesium tablets. Oh my God. It gave chronic stomach cramps, and made me feel nauseous as well as dioreha. So as it might work for some, it made me ill. Something I have tried is antihistamine. Strangely it works but only sometimes. Half a tablet usually does the trick an hour before bed time.
Gary A on September 27, 2016:
Tried that Mg Bright ! didn't work and lots of luck with their 110% money back guarantee, you can't get in touch with anyone !!
Grace Day on April 03, 2016:
I've never had a physician give me any advice whatsoever on my leg cramps, so I began trying to find a remedy on my own. I eventually came across the Hyland leg cramp formula, and it honestly did work very well for me. I even called the company to make sure there was no reason I shouldn't take it, as I am in kidney failure. They said it was homeopathic and the ingredients were safe. But one time when we were on vacation, I'd forgotten to bring the bottle with me and went to a pharmacy to buy some more. When I asked the pharmacist if they had that product, they did but he did everything he could to talk me out of buying it. I argued that it worked well and I've been using it for over a year. He finally asked me, "Do you like your heart?" I cheekily replied that yes, I DO like my heart and I use it nearly every day. He went on to tell me of the dangers of quinine and suggested I not use the Hyland's pills any longer. I wish I could say that I don't, but desperation sometimes makes me give in and take them. However, I try to keep mustard, vinegar or a banana within reach and pray that they work. I also tried drinking the Tonic water, and that, too works... but again, there is quinine in it and it just isn't good for you. I do think I'm going to try the Amish formula and pray that it works.
Graham S on May 11, 2015:
The best advice by far, as stated, as eating Mg based foods, so why pay for pills and other remedies? The world is fast getting to be in a Pill Popping Pandemic.
Bob on April 03, 2015:
I overheard two women talking about leg cramps that their husbands had. One said she had him use her pantyhose and it worked. I did a web search on leg cramps and pantyhose and got hundreds of hits about pregnancy, well I am not pregnant, men don't get pregnant. With absolutely nothing to lose except a few bucks, I tried it. A little honing as to brand, style, and size and I went from multiple cramps per day to only a few per week. The winner was Hanes Sheer Energy Q+ waistband free.
Sam G on June 22, 2014:
I tried a new product called Spazam- Athletes Gold. The actual one I tried was Spazamg with Magnesium and Arnica. According to their website they have another one coming out which uses capsaicin . Spazamg worked excellent for the cramps.
What I was also happy about was the pain in my left shoulder, due to a minor tear of the rotator cuff. After liberally applying it to my shoulder , I could lift my arm up over my head with minor discomfort. My brother in law started using it for gout. They don't make any wild claims on their website which is refreshing in and of itself.
cate on April 13, 2014:
I hv not be fortunate with the Amish concoction. Did not work for me as it does for many others. Was going to try mgbright but when I emailed them regarding their 110% guarantee, refund with no questions asked, the response did not appear to be from a business site but a personal email account. That raised a red flag. When queried, they said it was an oversight. Another response led me to a "return" product page which asked a lot of questions. Wondered what happened to the "no questions asked" on their site. Another red flag.
ljjjduvall on March 24, 2014:
Hi, I got horrible leg, feet and even bad cramps in other places. I have tried so many different treatments and almost gave up. I thought Quinine also would be the answer. Well I did some poking around the internet and it turns out that Quinine has really bad side effects. Some were DEATH! I think that is why the Government STOPPED RX's from being written or filled.
I'm sorry, it did work however I think DEATH is a real reason to stop taking it.
I did find one thing that did help me, STOP LEG CRAMPS, made by the Amish. It works for me.
I take a swig every night and sleep without cramps.
THANK YOU JESUS
MLK on February 13, 2014:
If you think quinine does not work on leg cramps, then your research is worthless. Quinine did the trick for me for many years and did it well.
KBS on February 08, 2014:
I have had two knees and one hip replaced. I have constant leg, calf, and food cramps at night. I take calcium and Celebrex. Have stopped both for periods and still have severe cramps. Hylands Leg Cramps stops the cramps within minutes, but cramps may come back after a few hours. I have now heard they may not be good for me. Hope it's not true.
Shasta Matova from USA on June 21, 2013:
You've found a variety of ways to help relieve muscle cramps. There are some interesting methods for sure. I am glad you found my hub about what worked for me.