What are muscle twitches?
Muscle twitches are a sudden, involuntary contraction of the fibers that make up a muscle. The length of time the muscle twitches for varies, but generally, most only twitch for a few seconds or minutes before relaxing again. As well as being felt, many muscle twitches can be seen under the skin.
A muscle twitch differs from a muscle spasm in several ways, for example:
- Muscle twitches are not typically painful
- Muscle twitches are short contractions that can happen repeatedly
- Muscle spasms are prolonged contractions that are typically painful, and most commonly occur following exercise.
Muscle twitching may also be known as fasciculation.
What causes muscle twitches?
Muscles are bands or bundles of fibrous tissue in our bodies. They pump our blood, allow us to move, talk, digest food, and maintain the position of various organs in our body
We have more than 600 muscles in our body and they can be divided into three different types: cardiac, smooth and skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscles are most likely to twitch.
The most common causes of muscle twitches include:
- Muscle overuse or fatigue
- Calcium, magnesium, or vitamin D deficiency
- Certain medications such as antidepressants, anxiolytics, stimulants, or steroids
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Excessive caffeine
- Sleep deprivation
- Stress and anxiety
Serious causes of muscle twitching include:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Isaac’s syndrome, a neuromuscular condition that causes twitching
- Multiple sclerosis
- A pinched spinal nerve, from, for example, trauma or a herniated disk
What are the symptoms of muscle twitches?
Symptoms generally include a painless twitching or fluttering of a muscle which may be irregular or regular and felt as a single twitch or a series of twitches lasting several minutes.
Muscle twitches most commonly occur in the arms or the legs as these are the most likely muscles to be overexerted, especially the calves, thighs, or biceps.
Other muscles that commonly twitch include the:
- Whole body
How is muscle twitching diagnosed?
If you experience frequent muscle twitching that is not due to overexertion of a muscle, see your doctor.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. They may conduct other tests if they suspect an underlying cause and muscle twitching is not your only symptom. Electromyography may be conducted which is a test that assesses muscle and nerve function.
How is muscle twitching treated?
Most cases of muscle twitching do not require treatment. However, if you experience frequent twitching, some lifestyle changes the health and functioning of your nerves which can reduce twitching, for example:
- Addressing any vitamin deficiencies with supplements
- Addressing any underlying health conditions
- Avoiding muscle overuse
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Getting adequate sleep
- Managing or avoiding stress
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Staying hydrated during exercise and consuming electrolyte replacement drinks during exercise
- Warming up before exercise and cooling down after exercise
- Medications such as baclofen