A cramp or spasm happens when a muscle contracts involuntarily. It’s a very common sensation that many of us experience from time to time.

Because there are several muscles that control the movements of your tongue, it’s possible to experience a tongue cramp as well.

Many times, tongue cramping is an isolated incident. However, if it happens frequently, it may be a sign of another underlying health condition.

Keep reading to learn more about tongue cramping, what can cause it, and what to do if it occurs.

If you have a tongue cramp, you may experience the following types of symptoms:

  • pain
  • a feeling of tightness
  • muscle tremors
  • trouble with tasks such as speaking and eating

Sometimes, the cause of tongue cramping is unknown (idiopathic). However, there are also some health conditions that may cause tongue cramping as well.

Muscle cramps

The most common area for muscle cramps to occur is in the legs, but cramps can impact any part of the body that you can move voluntarily. This includes your tongue.

Some factors that can contribute to muscle cramps include:

Dystonia

Dystonia is a condition that causes involuntary muscle spasms to occur. This is believed to be due to altered signaling from your brain to muscle tissue. Spasms caused by dystonia can be painful.

Oromandibular dystonia is dystonia that impacts the jaw, mouth, or tongue. When dystonia specifically affects the tongue, it’s called lingual dystonia. Spasms from lingual dystonia can pull your tongue into different positions.

The exact causes of lingual dystonia aren’t well understood. It’s possible that genetic factors may play a role in some people. Other causes may include:

Tetanus

Tetanus is a disease caused by a species of bacteria called Clostridium tetani. You get tetanus when C. tetani enters your body, typically through a wound, and begins to grow.

The bacteria produce toxins that impact the central nervous system, causing painful muscle spasms and rigidity. This can also affect the tongue.

Motor neuron diseases

Motor neurons are nerve cells that control the voluntary movements of your muscles. A motor neuron disease (MND) impacts signaling to these muscles, affecting your ability to do tasks like walking, speaking, and swallowing.

MNDs are progressive. This means that they gradually get worse over time. Some are inherited, but many times the causes of MNDs are unknown.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is one of the more common types of MND. Early signs of bulbar ALS include alterations in tongue movement involved in speech and swallowing abilities.

People with an MND can experience muscle cramps or spasms, which can cause pain or discomfort. These may potentially impact the tongue.

Other causes of tongue pain

Tongue pain isn’t always due to cramps or spasms. There are also other health conditions that can lead to pain at this location. Some examples include:

Healthline

Sometimes, tongue cramping can come on without an obvious cause or trigger. However, there are some instances when a tongue cramp may be more likely to happen.

You may be more prone to having a muscle cramp if you’re dehydrated, have a deficiency in certain minerals, or have been doing activities that tire the tongue, such as talking for prolonged periods or eating.

Lingual dystonia symptoms are often associated with tasks that involve movement of your mouth. For example, you may be more likely to experience spasms when you’re doing things like:

  • speaking
  • eating or drinking
  • swallowing
  • yawning

Some people also find that lingual dystonia symptoms are triggered by increased levels of stress.

In many cases, a cramp will last for a few seconds to minutes. During a tongue cramp, you can do a couple of things to help ease your symptoms:

  • Stop what you’re doing. If a specific activity, such as eating or talking, triggered a tongue cramp, stop until the cramp passes.
  • Stretch out your tongue. Stretching out your tongue may help to ease cramping in some, but not all, cases.

Tongue cramps due to underlying conditions

Tongue cramps due to an underlying condition are often managed with medications or therapy.

Lingual dystonia

Lingual dystonia may be managed using:

  • medications like clonazepam (Klonopin), baclofen (Lioresal), and trihexyphenidyl
  • botulinum toxin (Botox) injections
  • therapy to help cope with difficulties in speech, swallowing, or chewing
  • sensory tricks when symptoms appear, such as chewing gum or touching your jaw

Tetanus

Medical Emergency

Tetanus is a medical emergency. If you think you may be experiencing tetanus, call 911 and go to the nearest emergency room. Care involves:

  • antibiotics
  • tetanus immune globulin (TIG)
  • medications that control muscle spasms

Motor neuron diseases

There’s currently no cure for motor neuron diseases. Medications can help ease symptoms like muscle cramps and spasms. Additionally, therapy can help with troubles with speech, chewing, and swallowing.

Generally speaking, having an isolated tongue cramp here or there isn’t a cause for concern. However, make an appointment with a doctor for tongue cramps that:

  • happen with severe pain
  • last more than a few minutes
  • occur frequently or begin to interfere with your daily life
  • begin after you have sustained an injury or wound
  • appear after starting a medication
  • regularly cause slurred speech

Some causes of tongue cramps cannot be prevented. However, there are a few steps you can take that may help prevent tongue cramps from happening:

  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping.
  • Monitor minerals. Make sure you have adequate intake of minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Deficiencies in these can lead to muscle cramping.
  • Get vaccinated. Tetanus can be prevented through vaccination.

When you have a tongue cramp or spasm, you may experience symptoms like pain, tightness, and difficulty with talking or eating. Many times, these symptoms only last for a few seconds or minutes.

Tongue cramps may occur occasionally without an identifiable reason. Other times they can happen due to health conditions like dystonia, tetanus, or MNDs.

In some cases, you can ease tongue cramps by stopping what you’re doing and stretching out your tongue. However, tongue cramps or spasms that are caused by an underlying condition often need additional treatment.

See a doctor if you have tongue cramps that happen frequently, last a long time, or occur with severe pain. They can work to help you figure out what may be causing them.