Chronic motor tic disorder is a condition that involves brief, uncontrollable, spasm-like movements or vocal outbursts (called phonic tics), but not both. If both a physical tic and vocal outburst are present, the condition is known as Tourette syndrome.

Chronic motor tic disorder is more common than Tourette syndrome but less common than transient tic disorder. This is a temporary and self-limited condition expressed by tics.

Another type is dystonic tics, which appear as abrupt bursts of movement followed by a sustained contraction.

Chronic motor tic disorder begins before the age of 18 and typically resolves within 4 to 6 years. Treatment can help lessen its effect on school or work life.

Doctors are not entirely sure what causes chronic motor tic disorder or why some children develop it earlier than others. Some think chronic motor tic disorder may be the result of physical or chemical “abnormalities” in the brain.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that send signals throughout your brain. They may be misfiring or not communicating correctly. This causes the same “message” to be sent over and over again. The result is a physical tic.

Children with a family history of chronic tics or twitches are more likely to develop chronic motor tic disorder. Boys are more likely to have chronic motor tic disorder than girls.

People with chronic motor tic disorder may display the following motor tic examples:

  • facial grimacing
  • involuntary face and eye movements, such as repeated blinking, nose twitching, or jerking or clenching your jaw
  • muscle jerks of your legs, arms, or body, but rarely your torso
  • sounds that can include coughs, grunts, sniffling, and throat clearing

Some people have strange bodily sensations before a tic occurs. They’re usually able to restrain their symptoms for short periods of time, but this takes effort. Giving in to a tic brings a sense of relief.

Tics may be made worse by:

  • anxiety, distress, or embarrassment
  • lack of sleep
  • fever or illness
  • intense emotions

Tics are typically diagnosed during a regular doctor’s office appointment. Two of the following requirements must be met in order for you or your child to receive a chronic motor tic disorder diagnosis:

  • be younger than 18 years old when the tics started
  • have one or more motor tics
  • have tics that occur often throughout the day, every day, or on and off for a minimum of a year
  • have not received a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome
  • have tics that are not caused by taking medication or other drugs and are not caused by other medical issues

No test can diagnose the condition.

The type of treatment you receive for chronic motor tic disorder will depend on the severity of the condition and how it affects your life.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral treatments can help a child learn to restrain a tic for a short period of time.

According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a treatment approach called comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics (CBIT) significantly improved symptoms in children.

In CBIT, children with tics are trained to recognize the urge of a tic and to use a replacement or competing response instead of the tic.


Medication can help manage or reduce tics. Medications that are sometimes prescribed to control tics include:

  • haloperidol (Haldol)
  • pimozide
  • risperidone (Risperdal)
  • aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • topiramate (Topamax)
  • clonidine
  • guanfacine
  • cannabis-based medications

There is some limited evidence that the cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (dronabinol) helps stop tics in adults. However, cannabis-based products should not be given to children, adolescents, or pregnant or nursing people.

Other medical treatments

Injections of botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox injections) can treat some dystonic tics.

In rare and severe cases, a surgical procedure involving implantation of an electrical device in the brain may be considered. Some people find relief with electrode implantations in the brain.

Children who develop chronic motor tic disorder between ages 6 and 8 usually recover. Their symptoms typically stop without treatment in 4 to 6 years.

Children who develop the condition when they’re older and continue to experience symptoms in their 20s may not outgrow the tic disorder. In those cases, it may become a lifelong condition.