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.
Causes of muscle twitching
There are various conditions that can cause muscle twitching. Minor muscle twitching is usually the result of less serious, lifestyle-related causes. More severe muscle twitching, however, is often the result of a serious condition.
Common causes that are usually minor
Common causes of muscle twitching include the following:
- Twitching can occur after physical activity because lactic acid accumulates in the muscles used during exercise. It most often affects the arms, legs, and back.
- Muscle twitches caused by stress and anxiety are often called “nervous ticks.” They can affect any muscle in the body.
- Consuming too much caffeine and other stimulants can cause muscles in any part of the body to twitch.
- Deficiencies 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 can cause muscle contraction and twitching, especially in the body’s larger muscles. These include the legs, arms, and torso.
- The nicotine found in cigarettes and other tobacco products can cause muscle twitching, especially in the legs.
- Muscle spasms can occur in the eyelid or the area around the eye when the eyelid or the surface of the eye is irritated.
- Adverse reactions to certain drugs, including corticosteroids and estrogen pills, can trigger muscle spasms. The twitching may affect the hands, arms, or legs.
These common causes of muscle spasms are usually minor conditions that easily resolve. The twitching should subside after a couple of days.
However, you should talk to 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 disorders 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 conditions that can trigger muscle twitches include:
- Muscular dystrophies are 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.
- Lou Gehrig’s disease is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It’s a condition that 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 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 affects the nerves that stimulate muscle fibers, resulting in frequent muscle twitching. The spasms most often occur in the arm and leg muscles.
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.
Diagnosing the cause of muscle twitching
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 for muscle twitching
Treatment usually isn’t necessary for muscle twitching. The spasms tend to subside without treatment within a few days. However, 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:
Preventing muscle twitching
Muscle twitching isn’t always preventable. However, 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, such as chicken and tofu.
Get adequate sleep
Most people require six to eight hours of sleep each night to stay healthy. Sleep helps the body heal and recover and gives your nerves time to rest.
To reduce the stress in your life, try relaxation techniques, such as 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.
Limit your caffeine intake
Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages or eating foods that contain caffeine. These foods and drinks may increase or promote muscle twitching.
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.
Talk to your doctor if you’re on a stimulant medication, such as an amphetamine, and develop muscle twitching. Your doctor may be able to prescribe another medication that doesn’t cause twitching.