Does Eating Yellow Mustard Really Stop Leg Cramps? A Personal Journey of Pain
If you wake up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night, it's rarely ever for a good reason. The only good reason I can think of would be because someone is going into labor. Usually, it's because you hear the dog or the cat in the middle of hurling all over the carpet, a child is two inches away from your face saying they can't sleep, or the always painful cramp in your leg. The latter of which happened to me twice in the last week.
It's certainly not the first time I've been awakened by what feels like someone taking a muscle in my leg and trying to tie a knot in it like a sailor attempting to "batten down the hatches." However, both instances happened in a part of my leg I don't recall ever cramping before.
Usually, when I get a cramp while I'm asleep, it's in my calf muscle, right down the middle. In these two cases, the muscle that cramped was either the peroneus longus or peroneus brevis muscle that runs along the side of the calf area from the top of the ankle and is responsible for pulling your toes and feet outward, according to Very Well Health. Until now, I seriously didn't know there were muscles there. Obviously, I would have preferred to find out in a health or biology class instead of having it feel like it was trying to detach itself from my skeleton, but it is what it is. Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way.
The first night it happened, I laid in bed for a few minutes, twisting and turning my foot trying to stretch it out and make it stop all while trying not to wake up my wife. At one point I got out of bed and took a few steps around the room hoping that would help. Spoiler, it did not. Finally, and for reasons I can't explain other than the mind is a weird thing, I remembered one of the players on my son's basketball team getting a cramp in his leg during a game this past season, and his dad, who's a chiropractor, giving him several mustard packets from the concession stand to eat while he used his chiropractic magic to try and work out the cramp. At some point in time, I read somewhere online mustard had the ability to help ease cramp pain, but this was the first time I had seen someone try it.
Desperate to make the pain stop so I could go back to sleep, I hobbled my way downstairs to the kitchen, grabbed the mustard out of the refrigerator, and literally squeezed at least a tablespoon's worth into my mouth straight from the bottle.
I went back to bed and within a couple of minutes, the muscle relaxed and the pain was gone. When it happened again in the middle of the night a few days later, I didn't even bother trying to stretch it out. I got out of bed and went straight to the kitchen. Once again, a few minutes after getting back in bed, the muscle relaxed, the pain stopped, and I fell back asleep. But why? To the Google machine!
Turns out science doesn't know exactly. It has theories, but not enough factual evidence to back it up. Not yet anyway. According to Healthline, one theory is the spice, Tumeric, which is what gives mustard its yellow color, may be the reason. It's extracted from a plant called Curcuma longa and contains a chemical called curcumin, which health experts think might reduce swelling. Another theory suggests it's due to molecules called isothiocyanate in mustard that activate sensors in the back of your throat. These sensors send signals to the nerves in your muscles keeping them "from becoming overly excited and causing muscles to cramp."
Maybe it's one of those reasons. Maybe it was the intense tang on my tastebuds and attempting to choke it down that distracted my brain from the pain. Whatever it was or is, it worked, and will be my go-to remedy from now on. Although I may have to put it on a hot dog or something because as much as I like mustard, trying to swallow a tablespoon's worth by itself is a chore.
[Sources: Very Well Health / Healthline / Serious Eats / Web MD]