Involuntary movements like tremors or tics result from issues with the nerves or muscles. Some underlying medical conditions may cause them, such as low blood sugar, hypoxia, and multiple sclerosis.
An involuntary movement occurs when you move your body in an uncontrollable and unintended way. These movements can be anything from quick, jerking tics to longer tremors and seizures.
You can experience these movements in almost any part of the body, including:
In some cases, uncontrollable movements in one or more areas of your body may quickly subside. In others, these movements are an ongoing problem and may worsen over time.
There are several types of involuntary movements. Nerve damage, for instance, often produces small muscle twitches in the affected muscle.
Tardive dyskinesia (TD)
Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a neurological condition. It originates in the brain and occurs with the use of neuroleptic drugs. Doctors prescribe these drugs to treat psychiatric disorders, as well as nausea.
People with TD often exhibit uncontrollable repetitive facial movements. These may include:
- rapid blinking of the eyes
- protruding tongue
- smacking of the lips
- puckering of the lips
- pursing of the lips
According to the
Tremors are rhythmic movements of a body part. They’re due to sporadic muscle contractions.
According to the Stanford School of Medicine, most people experience tremors in response to factors such as:
However, tremors may also occur with more serious underlying conditions, such as:
Myoclonus is characterized by quick, shock-like jerking movements. They may occur naturally during sleep and at moments when you’re startled.
Tics are sudden, repetitive movements that can be motor or vocal-based. They’re classified as simple or complex, depending on whether they involve a smaller or larger number of muscle groups.
Excessively shrugging the shoulders or flexing a finger is an example of a simple tic. Repetitively hopping and flapping one’s arms is an example of a complex tic.
In young people, tics most often occur with Tourette syndrome. The motor tics that occur as a result of this disorder may disappear for short periods. If you’re living with Tourette syndrome, you may be able to stifle them to some extent.
In adults, tics may occur as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Adult-onset tics may also be due to:
- use of certain drugs, such as methamphetamines
This refers to slow, writhing movements. This type of involuntary movement most often affects the hands and arms.
In general, involuntary movement suggests damage to nerves or areas of your brain that affect motor coordination. However, a variety of underlying conditions can produce involuntary movement.
In children, some of the
Kernicterus is now rarely seen in the United States due to routine bilirubin screening of all newborns.
In adults, some of the
Different types of prescription and illicit drugs may cause uncontrollable movements as side effects.
- Neuroleptics: These are the most common cause of drug-induced involuntary movements. They’re typically prescribed for mental conditions like schizophrenia.
- Antidepressants: These are prescribed for mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Anticholinergics: These medications may be prescribed to help relieve symptoms in people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bladder control issues, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Antiemetics: These may help treat nausea and acid reflux.
- Anticonvulsants: These medications help prevent seizures associated with epilepsy. In rare cases, carbamazepine and lamotrigine may lead to TD.
- Antihistamines: These medications help prevent allergy symptoms and allergic reactions.
- Decongestants: The medications pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine may help treat the common cold and flu.
- Antimalarials: These medications may help treat or prevent malaria. This disease is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito.
- Anxiolytics: These drugs are prescribed to help treat anxiety disorders and prevent anxiety symptoms.
- Stimulants: Some prescription and illicit stimulant drugs may cause uncontrollable movements. Some drugs may include amphetamines, methylphenidate, and cocaine.
Speak with a doctor if you take any of these drugs and experience new, uncontrollable movements. They may recommend you stop taking the medication and suggest an alternative option.
Make an appointment with a doctor if you or your child are experiencing persistent, uncontrollable body movements and are unsure of the cause. If you don’t already have a doctor, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.
Your appointment will most likely begin with a comprehensive medical interview. A doctor will likely review your personal and family medical history, including any medications you’ve been taking or have taken.
Other questions may include:
- When and how did the movements start?
- What body parts are being affected?
- What seems to make the movements worse or better?
- Does stress affect these movements?
- How often are the movements taking place?
- Are the movements getting worse over time?
It’s important to mention any other symptoms you may have along with these uncontrollable movements. Other symptoms and your responses to a doctor’s questions are very helpful in deciding the best course of treatment.
Depending on the suspected cause, a doctor could order one or more medical tests. These may include a variety of blood tests, such as:
- electrolyte studies
- thyroid function tests to rule out thyroid dysfunction
- a serum copper or serum ceruloplasmin test to rule out Wilson’s disease
- syphilis serology to rule out neurosyphilis
- connective tissue disease screening tests to rule out systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other related diseases
- a serum calcium test
- red blood cell count (RBC)
A doctor could also request:
- a urine test to rule out toxins
- a spinal tap for spinal fluid analysis
- an MRI or CT scan of the brain to look for structural abnormalities
- an electroencephalogram (EEG)
Psychopharmacology testing can also be helpful for diagnostic testing. However, this depends on whether you’re taking certain drugs or substances.
Your treatment plan may vary depending on the underlying cause and severity of your uncontrollable movement.
Some medications may help reduce the severity. For example, anti-epileptic drugs like sodium valproate and carbamazepine may help prevent uncontrolled movements associated with seizure disorders.
Physical activity within a doctor’s guidelines may also help enhance your coordination and slow muscle damage. Possible forms of physical activity include:
You may find support and self-help groups helpful if you have uncontrollable movements. Ask a doctor for assistance in finding and joining these types of groups.
Involuntary movements can range from quick twitches to longer tremors and seizures. They can occur anywhere on the body, such as in the neck, face, and limbs.
In some cases, they happen just once and then quickly disappear. In others, however, they might stay for an extended period of time and even get more intense over time.
If you experience an involuntary movement more than once, speak with a doctor to rule out an underlying medical condition.