What are muscle twitches?

Muscle twitching is also called muscle fasciculation. Twitching involves small muscle contractions in the body. Your muscles are made up of fibers that your nerves control. Stimulation or damage to a nerve may cause your muscle fibers to twitch.

Most muscle twitches go unnoticed and aren’t cause for concern. In some cases, they may indicate a nervous system condition and you should see your doctor.

There are various conditions that can cause muscle twitching. Minor muscle twitching is usually the result of less serious, lifestyle-related causes. But more severe muscle twitching is often the result of a serious condition.

Common causes that are usually minor

Common causes of muscle twitching include the following:

  • Physical activity. Lactic acid accumulates in the muscles used during exercise. It most often affects the arms, legs, and back.
  • Stress and anxiety. Along with other symptoms of mental health issues that manifest physically, stress and anxiety can cause what is often called a “nervous tic.” They can affect any muscle in the body.
  • Stimulants. Consuming too much caffeine and other stimulants can cause muscles in any part of the body to twitch.
  • Nutritent deficiencies. Not getting enough of certain nutrients can cause muscle spasms, particularly in the eyelids, calves, and hands. Common types of nutritional deficiencies include vitamin D, vitamin B, and calcium deficiencies.
  • Dehydration. Dehydration can cause muscle contraction and twitching, especially in the body’s larger muscles. These include the legs, arms, and torso.
  • Nicotine. Cigarettes and other tobacco products can cause muscle twitching, especially in the legs.
  • Irritation. Irritation of the eyelid or the surface area of the eye can cause muscle spasms to occur in the eyelid or the area around the eye.
  • Adverse reactions to certain drugs. Muscle spasms can result from adverse reactions to drugs like corticosteroids and estrogen pills. The twitching may affect the hands, arms, or legs.
  • Electrolyte imbalances. Electrolyte imbalances can cause muscle twitching. This could be due to excessive sweating, intense exercise, or fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Not getting enough sleep. This can alter levels of certain neurotransmitters, which could produce muscle spasms.

These common causes of muscle spasms are usually minor conditions that easily resolve.

But you should talk with your doctor if you suspect that your medication is causing your muscle twitching. Your doctor may recommend a lower dosage or switch you to another medication. You should also contact your doctor if you believe you have a nutritional deficiency.

More serious causes

While most muscle twitching is the result of minor conditions and certain lifestyle habits, some muscle spasms can be triggered by more serious causes. These muscle twitches are often related to problems with the nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.

They may damage the nerves connected to your muscles, leading to twitching. Some of the rare yet serious issues that can trigger muscle twitches include:

  • Muscular dystrophies. This is a group of inherited diseases that damage and weaken the muscles over time. They can cause muscle twitching in the face and neck or hips and shoulders.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS causes nerve cells to die. The twitching can affect the muscles in any part the body, but it usually occurs in the arms and legs first.
  • Spinal muscular atrophy. This condition damages the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, affecting the control of muscle movement. It can cause the tongue to twitch.
  • Isaac’s syndrome. This affects the nerves that stimulate muscle fibers, resulting in frequent muscle twitching. The spasms most often occur in the arm and leg muscles.
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD can alter the balance of fluids and electrolytes in the body, which could cause muscle spasms.
  • Myopathy. This neuromuscular disorder impacts the function of the muscle fibers, leading to cramps, stiffness, and twitching.
  • Serotonin syndrome. This condition occurs when you have high levels of a chemical called serotonin in your body. It’s often caused by the use of certain medications and is associated with many serious symptoms, including muscle spasms.
  • Neuropathy. This is a condition caused by nerve damage, which can result in numbness, pain, and muscle twitches, especially in the hands and feet.
  • Hoffmann syndrome. This specific type of hypothyroid myopathy is characterized by painful spasms and muscle weakness. It usually affects the muscles in the tongue, arms, and legs.

Muscle twitching typically isn’t an emergency, but a serious medical condition may be causing it. Make an appointment with your doctor if your twitching becomes a chronic or persistent issue.

During your appointment, your doctor will ask you about your muscle twitching to determine the underlying cause. You’ll discuss:

  • when your muscles began twitching
  • where the twitches occur
  • how often the twitches occur
  • how long the twitches last
  • any other symptoms you may be experiencing

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam and gather your medical history. Make sure to notify your doctor about any existing health conditions.

Your doctor will likely order certain diagnostic tests if they suspect your muscle twitching is due to an underlying condition. They may order:

  • blood tests to evaluate electrolyte levels and thyroid function
  • an MRI scan
  • a CT scan
  • electromyography to assess the health of the muscles and the nerve cells that control them

These diagnostic tests can help your doctor determine the cause of your muscle twitching. If you have persistent and chronic muscle twitching, a serious underlying medical condition may be the cause.

It’s important to diagnose and treat the problem as soon as possible. Early intervention can often improve your long-term outlook and treatment options.

Treatment usually isn’t necessary for muscle twitching. The spasms tend to subside without treatment within a few days. But you may need treatment if one of the more serious conditions is causing your muscle twitching.

Depending on the particular diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe certain medications to ease symptoms. These drugs include:

  • corticosteroids, like betamethasone (Celestone) and prednisone (Rayos)
  • muscle relaxants, like carisoprodol (Soma) and cyclobenzaprine (Amrix)
  • neuromuscular blockers, like incobotulinumtoxin A (Xeomin) and rimabotulinumtoxin B (Myobloc)
  • cognitive behavioral therapy or anxiety medications for underlying mental health issues

Muscle twitching isn’t always preventable. But there are some things you can do to lower your risk:

Eat a balanced diet

Follow these tips for eating a balanced diet:

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat whole grains, which provide you with carbohydrates for energy.
  • Consume a moderate amount of protein. Try to get most of your protein from lean sources, like chicken and tofu.

Get adequate sleep

Most adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to stay healthy. Sleep helps the body heal and recover and gives your nerves time to rest.

Manage stress

To reduce the stress in your life, try relaxation techniques, like meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi. Exercising at least three times per week is another great way to feel less stressed. Talking to a therapist can also help, whether in person or using online therapy sources.

Limit your caffeine intake

Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages or eating foods that contain caffeine. These foods and drinks may increase or promote muscle twitching.

Quit smoking

It’s always a good idea to quit smoking. Nicotine is a mild stimulant that affects your central nervous system. Quitting smoking also helps lower your risk for other serious health problems.

Switch medications

Talk with your doctor if you’re on a stimulant medication, like an amphetamine, and develop muscle twitching. Your doctor may be able to prescribe another medication that doesn’t cause twitching.