What is a muscle twitch?
Unlike a muscle spasm, which is when a muscle suddenly contracts, a muscle twitch is typically not painful. Most muscle twitches are common, normal, and often resolve by themselves.
Muscle twitches have a variety of causes, many of which are minor and don’t require medical care.
Signs of muscle twitching
Small, involuntary contractions of a muscle can occur anywhere in your body. The most common locations to experience muscle twitches are your face, forearms, fingers or thumbs, upper arms, and legs. They’re not rare and can have a variety of causes.
This issue can happen in your brain, spine, or nerves — where the impulse signals are sent from — or in your muscles, which receive the signals. This imbalance can cause involuntary twitching of individual or small groups of muscles.
Causes of muscle twitching
Muscle twitching, or fasciculations, can have a variety of causes. Many of them are easily managed at home, but some require medical attention.
Drinking caffeine or other stimulants can trigger muscle twitches. Caffeine can interfere with molecules in your body that are responsible for moving energy on a cellular level. When those molecules are out of balance, it can change the amount of energy in your muscle, causing an uncontrolled “firing” or contraction.
Lack of sleep
Sleep is critical to maintaining the health of your body and mind. It’s a complex process of rest and renewal necessary for many functions. Sleep deprivation can cause a wide variety of issues, including muscle twitching.
Dehydration or poor nutrition
Your body needs enough water and nutrients to function properly. Without sufficient water, the balance of salt in your muscles gets disturbed, which can lead to twitching. Similarly, a deficiency in certain nutrients like potassium, calcium, or Vitamin D can cause imbalances that result in muscle twitches.
Nervous system conditions
A doctor can perform blood tests or other assessments to determine if your muscle twitching is caused by one of these conditions. In these cases,muscle twitching is often accompanied by other symptoms including weakness or a loss of muscle.
Other causes of muscle twitching
Additional causes for muscle twitching include:
A doctor can help determine the cause of your muscle twitching and how to best manage or reduce it.
When to see the doctor for muscle twitching
You should talk to your doctor if your muscle twitching:
- Is continuous, or lasts for a long time
- Happens when you’re moving and resting
- Affects multiple parts of your body at once
- Is accompanied by weakness or muscle loss
- Is accompanied by a loss of or change in sensation (feeling)
- Begins after you start taking a new medication
- Happens after you’ve been diagnosed with a new medical condition
- Is accompanied by fever, headache, nausea, or vomiting
Diagnosing muscle twitching
Your doctor will assess your muscle twitching by examining the affected area while you’re relaxed so that they can fully observe the twitching. Your doctor may ask you the following questions:
- When did you first notice your muscle twitching?
- How long does your twitching last?
- Does your twitching always happen in the same location?
- How often does your twitching occur?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
Your doctor might also perform blood tests to determine if the cause is an electrolyte imbalance or related to your blood chemistry. Additionally, your doctor may recommend other tests, including:
Treatments for muscle twitching
You can easily treat and prevent many causes of muscle twitching at home. Most muscle twitches can be prevented by:
- Getting enough sleep (experts recommend 7-8 hours per night)
- Staying hydrated
- Eating a balanced diet including a diversity of fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding too much caffeine (found in coffee, tea, or energy drinks)
- Exercising daily
- Managing stress with healthy coping mechanisms like meditation or journaling
- Discussing medication changes with your doctor
If your doctor finds that another medical condition is causing your muscle twitching, they will recommend an appropriate treatment.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Columbia University Department of Neurology: "Sleep Deprivation."
Healthline: "What You Need to Know About Muscle Twitching."
MedlinePlus: "Muscle twitching."
Neurology International: "Another Perspective on Fasciculations: When is it not Caused by the Classic form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Progressive Spinal Atrophy?"
The Ohio University Wexner Medical Center: "Why do my muscles twitch?"