Jun 06

Natural Remedies for Muscle Cramps

Bananas for muscle cramps

Bananas for muscle cramps

While attending a homeopathy conference in Albuquerque with a group of health writers, I suddenly experienced a muscle cramp in my foot during breakfast. Immediately one of the women at the table placed a banana in front of me. “Quick, eat this and you’ll feel better in a few minutes.” I gobbled it down and the cramp disappeared and did not return (I frequently experience repeat cramps).

Is eating a banana to relieve muscle cramps an old wives tale or scientific fact? Athletic trainers, coaches, and some healthcare professionals recommend eating a banana as a fast fix for muscle cramps associated with exercise. Bananas are high in potassium, which is an electrolyte. Loss of electrolytes (others include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorous, and sodium), which typically occurs during exercise and/or sweating, can contribute to muscle cramps. That’s because electrolytes help regulate your muscle function and the amount of water in your body, among other tasks.

I had been jogging before going to breakfast, which could have explained the cramp in my foot. Muscle cramps are often caused by dehydration, overuse, or just staying in one position for a prolonged time. Then when you do move, wham! Other causes may include poor blood circulation in the legs, inadequate stretching before exercise, deficiency of magnesium and/or potassium, or a pinched nerve in the back or neck. Some medications, such as diuretics, statins, nifedipine, raloxifene, terbutaline, albuterol, and tolcapone can cause muscle cramps.muscle cramps

If a banana had not been so readily available, what else could I have done to relieve my painful cramp? Here are some natural remedies for muscle cramps for you to consider.


Natural remedies for muscle cramps

Acupressure. Locate the center of the cramp and apply pressure using your thumb or heel of your hand. Hold the pressure for 10 seconds, then release and repeat several times. The pain should begin to subside after a few repetitions. Another tip is to press on the upper lip, as this meridian is associated with the feet and legs.

Apple cider vinegar. No pickles in the house? If you down two to three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, you may experience relief. Vinegar contains most of the electrolytes, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and sodium.

Body weight. If you experience a muscle cramp in your calf or back of the thigh (hamstring), place all of your weight on the affected leg and bend your knee slightly for relief. You can also sit and extend the affected leg straight out and pull the top of your toes toward your head.

Epsom salt. Soak in a tub of warm water and one half-cup of Epsom salt, which contains magnesium.

Hot/cold. You may want to either ice or warm the muscle, combined with massage. If using ice, be sure to not keep the ice pack on the muscle for more than 10 minutes. Keep the ice off the muscle for another 10 minutes before applying again. If using a heating pad, set it on low and apply for 20 minutes. Remove the heat for 20 minutes, then apply again. Use massage in between icing or heating.

Mustard. This condiment is popular with coaches for leg cramps in athletes. Mustard contains acetic acid, which is necessary for the production of acetylcholine. Since cramps can be caused by a deficiency in acetylcholine, taking one or two teaspoons of mustard may help.

Oil massage. Combine 1 part wintergreen essential oil with 4 parts vegetable oil. Massage into your muscle cramp. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, which can help enhance blood circulation and relieve pain. Do not use a heating pad with this treatment.

muscle crampsPickles. I have a friend who swears by this natural remedy. She downs a huge kosher dill pickle and her calf cramps disappear. It’s probably the vinegar and not the pickle itself, but eating the pickle makes the vinegar go down easier. When I belonged to a running club, one of the members used to carry pickles with her for after her training runs.

Preventing muscle cramps

  • To help prevent muscle cramps, be sure to stay hydrated, especially if you exercise a lot. You can avoid muscle cramps if you drink at least 16 ounces of water two hours before an intense workout and then 4 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes during your session.
  • Consume enough foods with electrolytes. If you are like most people, you probably are not shy on sodium, but you could use more magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and calcium.
  • Taking vitamin E may help prevent muscle cramps that occur during the night. Vitamin E improves blood circulation.
  • Although the FDA banned over-the-counter quinine years ago, you can still get a small amount in quinine (tonic) water. Be sure, however, that you buy a brand that contains real quinine. Drinking 8 ounces of quinine water before bed each night may stop nighttime muscle cramps. (Unfortunately, you also may need to get up to go to the bathroom during the night!)
  • Don’t sleep with tight sheets! If your toes are bent toward your body during the night because of tight sheets, you may wake up with muscle cramps.

If you suffer from muscle cramps, I hope at least one of these natural remedies is helpful in relieving and/or preventing these painful events in your life.


Miller KC. Plasma potassium concentration and content changes after banana ingestion in exercised men. Journal of Athletic Training 2012 Nov-Dec; 47(6): 648-54

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