Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Little Mustard Please?

Bozeman in October was substantially colder than normal, but temperatures bounced back into the normal range during November. Heavy November snows threatened early but skirted our end of Gallitan Valley. Despite several ominous forecasts, we didn't get more than an inch or two of snowfall when storm fronts moved through. That changed the week before Thanksgiving (November 20th to be exact) when we were blanketed with 8 inches of snowfall. With clear fairways we were able to play golf right up through November 19th. After the 20th we are snowed in for the winter.

Bozeman Swim Center, Main Street, has an Olympic
size indoor pool.
So this year, I started lap swimming Thanksgiving week, about two weeks behind the 2012 start. I began at 1,000 yards (40 lengths) and worked up slowly 'til earlier this week we swam a mile (a tad more at 1,800 yards or 76 lengths). Granted, we are not setting any speed records. But it's good daily exercise.

Today I focused on improving my kick, so it was no great surprise on my last lap when my legs starting cramping up. First, my right hamstring cramped. When I got that straightened out my left lower calf suddenly cramped violently. It was literally pulsating.  It wouldn't stop. 

I worked my way over to the deck, grabbed on, and tried to figure how to relieve the spasms. One of the lifeguards noticed my distress and came over to help. Normally if I cramp, the spasms dissipate in a minute or two. Not today. We went through all the positions and postures to seek relief. Nothing helped -- worst cramping ever. I was groaning. Finally Kathryn (the lifeguard) asked if I had ever tried mustard. What?  She ran off to the swing room, grabbed a big plastic squeeze bottle of French's Mustard and squirted out a heaping teaspoon. "Take this," she said. As I swallowed the spasms eased almost immediately. Incredible!

Turns out this self help remedy is well documented and supported in cyber space. Pharmacist Joe Graedon explains as follows.
Q: Years ago, I read in your column about using plain, old yellow mustard for leg cramps. When I get cramps in the calves of my legs at night, they are so severe that I just about break my neck trying to get out of bed as quickly as possible. Standing up and walking around does help a bit, but the cramps still leave me in agony.
Once I swallow a tablespoon of French's mustard, it generally helps me within a minute or so. My daughter suffers from occasional leg cramps as well and also has found relief by taking a spoonful of mustard. When I'm traveling, I make certain that I have a small bottle of mustard in the car with me.
A: We don't know why mustard works so well against muscle cramps. It may be the turmeric included for its yellow color, or it could be the vinegar or the salt. However it works, many readers agree that this remedy has rescued them from excruciating leg cramps.
Here's one story: "Several doctors have run full metabolic panels on me but never found an electrolyte imbalance to explain my horrible leg cramps. One doctor prescribed potassium just in case, but it didn't help. Another suggested calcium -- also no help.
"I took quinine tablets for 10 years until the Food and Drug Administration banned its use for cramps, but it gave only partial relief. Luckily, a friend had read about mustard the same month I stopped quinine, and the years since then have been wonderful.
"Muscle cramps have multiple causes. No one answer seems to work for everyone. But nothing has matched mustard for me. I even keep it in my car for long trips."
Based on my one-shot experience with almost instant relief, I think the impact of mustard is akin to the impact of scaring someone during a bout of hiccups. It is virtually impossible to consciously control an unconscious, autonomous response. For cramps and hiccups attending to and trying to control the source of discomfort actually worsens the situation because focusing on the source creates stress that tightens the cramping muscles. As I was swallowing the mustard I could feel my body's center moving from my calf to the sharp, tangy condiment flowing down my throat, easing the calf muscle as a result. Whatever, the process worked. You can bet I'll stock in a supply of mustard packets for future use.

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