Toe twitching, also called a tremor or a spasm, can be caused by a variety of conditions. Many simply result from temporary interruptions in your circulatory system, muscles, or joints. Others may be linked to how much you exercise or what you eat.
Symptoms of toe twitching are usually fleeting and don’t require any medical attention. Most causes of harmless (benign) twitching can be treated with a few quick activities at home.
Your nerves, muscles, and even blood flow can all cause toe twitching. A deficiency in certain nutrients and minerals can also be a cause.
Poor blood circulation
Poor circulation in your toes can lead to a lack of oxygen supply to toe muscles. This can result from blood vessels being constricted for a number of reasons, such as a calcium or potassium deficiency.
Stretching of the muscle or muscle irritation
Stretching your toe muscles too suddenly or forcefully can cause them to twitch or even cramp as they quickly contract and become stiff.
Using your toe and foot muscles for a long period of time can irritate the muscles and cause twitching, especially if you don’t stay hydrated or replenish nutrients with a meal.
This is common after an intensive workout, being on your feet all day, or performing manual labor like yardwork.
Joint inflammation or injury can put pressure on or damage motor nerves that deliver signals to your toe muscles to move. This can cause the nerves to become overactive and make your toe muscles contract involuntarily, which is known as muscle fasciculation.
A lack of certain vitamins and nutrients can cause muscle spasms throughout your body, including in your toes. For example, vitamin D makes it harder for your body to absorb other nutrients like calcium and phosphate.
Painful legs moving toes syndrome
Painful legs moving toes syndrome (PLMT) happens when your toes move involuntarily accompanied by noticeable leg pain. This condition may result from nerve and spinal cord damage or injury.
Central nervous system conditions
Some more serious central nervous system conditions can cause muscle twitching throughout your body, including your toes.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
ALS happens when motor neurons that transmit signals from nerves to your muscles become weak and die off.
Muscle twitching is one of the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This condition happens when neurons that transmit nerve signals in your brain start to disappear. Consistent muscle twitching that results in toe curling or clenching is called dystonia.
Nerve damage (neuropathy)
Spinal muscular atrophy
Muscle weakness (myopathy)
Myopathy happens when muscle fibers function improperly. There are three types of myopathy, the most common being myositis.
Twitching that happens as you’re falling asleep is known as hypnagogic (hypnic) jerking. This can be caused by anxiety, use of stimulants like caffeine, or exercising close to bedtime. It can affect many of your muscle groups, including your toes.
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is another condition in which your leg and arm muscles can twitch while you’re asleep. These twitches can be small, isolated to your toe, or involve your entire limb.
Benign toe twitching usually doesn’t need any treatment. It’ll usually go away on its own after a few days.
You may need treatment if an underlying condition is causing your toe twitching. Treatments may include:
- regular stretching exercises to reduce risk of toe twitching and cramping
- foot massage to relieve tension, stress, and pressure in toe muscles
- prescription medications, such as beta blockers or seizure medications
Surgical treatment can address conditions that affect your muscles or nerves, such as nerve damage. Treatments can include:
- nerve repair
- neurolysis (taking out scar tissue from a nerve)
Consider these things to do at home to reduce your toe twitching:
- Warm compress or water. Use an electric heating pad or wrap a warm, damp towel around your toe to reduce muscle spasms. Dipping your foot in a warm foot bath for 20 minutes can also help.
- Cold compress or ice. Wrap ice or a frozen bag of vegetables in a towel and place it on your toe. Lightly massage the toe to reduce spasms.
- Electrolyte intake. Drink electrolyte-infused water or sports drinks like Gatorade to replenish lost electrolytes, especially after heavy exercise that can make you more prone to muscle cramps.<
Try these exercises to relieve toe spasms and minimize discomfort:
- Stand on your toes with your heel up and the ball of your foot on the floor.
- Stay standing like this for five seconds.
- Lower your foot all the way back down.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Point your big toe out with your other toes bent downward towards the sole of your foot.
- Keep your toe like this for five seconds.
- Relax your toes.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Bend your toes downward as if you’re pointing them towards the sole of your foot.
- Keep your toes like this for five seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
Walking on sand barefoot can also strengthen your foot and toe muscles, while the sand “massages” the bottom of your feet to release tension.
See a doctor if twitching:
- persists for two weeks or more
- gets in the way of walking, running, or other activities
Seek emergency medical attention if you notice any nervous condition symptoms, such as:
- hand, foot, or limb tingling or numbness
- trouble walking
- losing muscle mass
- muscle weakness
- muscle stiffness
- losing vision or seeing double
- losing your memory
- slurring speech
If you have any of these symptoms, your doctor may order one diagnostic tests to discern the cause. Tests may include:
- blood tests
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the foot, leg, brain, or spine
- x-rays to examine structures in your foot or other body parts
- urine test to check for minerals, toxins, and other substances
- nerve conduction tests to evaluation your nerve function
You can take several steps to decrease the possibility of toe twitching.
- Limit or avoid caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or excessive exercise if any of these exacerbate your toe twitching.
- Manage stress through meditation and breathing exercises.
- Get seven to eight hours of regular sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, such as bananas, broccoli, spinach, almonds, yogurt, cheese, and milk.
- Drink more electrolytes, which replenish minerals that you lose throughout the day.
- Wear comfortable, cushioned shoes with plenty of room for your toes. You can also wear custom shoe inserts to cushion the shoes. Avoid wearing high heels for a long time.
Most of the time, you don’t need to worry about toe twitching. It’ll likely go away quickly without needing any treatment or changes in your diet or lifestyle.
But if you notice persistent symptoms over a long period, see your doctor to diagnose any conditions that may be causing your toe twitching.