What to Know About Muscle Twitching

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD

Muscle twitching refers to minor, involuntary contractions of a particular muscle. In some cases, these contractions may be a typical response to factors like physical exertion or caffeine consumption. In other cases, they may be the result of a more serious condition like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Muscle twitches are different from muscle cramps, which can affect multiple muscle groups in a given area at the same time. It also makes them different from myoclonus, which refers to quick, involuntary muscle jerks like hiccups or sleep startles.

The differences between twitches and other muscle movements or conditions can help doctors narrow down the underlying cause.

This article discusses what causes muscle twitching, what other symptoms may occur, and how muscle twitching is treated. It also covers the diagnostic process and when to see a doctor.

What causes muscle twitching?

A man touching his face
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There are many possible causes of muscle twitching, which can vary greatly in severity. The location and duration of the twitch depend on the underlying cause.

Common causes

Certain common conditions or lifestyle factors can cause minor, temporary muscle twitching, including:

Medications

Certain medications or drugs can cause or increase muscle twitches, including:

Also, some people taking benzodiazepines may experience Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source twitching as a withdrawal symptom.

Neurological conditions

Conditions that affect the nervous system can cause muscle twitching. For example, ALS — a disease that causes motor neurons to degenerate — leads to Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source muscle twitching and atrophy.

Other neurological conditions that may lead to twitching include:

  • brachial plexus injury, which affects the bundle of nerves that transmit signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm, and hand)
  • damage to the nerve that supplies a muscle
  • nerve entrapment or compression
  • multiple sclerosis, a disease affecting the brain and spinal cord that can present Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source with facial twitching called myokymia
  • certain types of muscular dystrophy, an inherited disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness and tissue loss
  • Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by tics and vocal outbursts

Learn more about neurological symptoms.

Other causes

Muscle twitches may also be caused by:

Serious or life threatening causes

In some cases, muscle twitching may be a sign of a serious or life threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

What other signs and symptoms might occur with muscle twitching?

Depending on the underlying cause, muscle twitches may occur with other signs or symptoms.

People experiencing muscle twitching may also notice:

Learn more about muscle conditions.

In some cases, the underlying condition may also cause signs or symptoms in other areas of the body. These may include:

How do doctors diagnose the cause of muscle twitching?

To diagnose the cause of muscle twitching, your doctor will take a medical history, perform a physical examination, and possibly order testing. Questions your doctor may ask about muscle twitches include:

  • How long have you experienced muscle twitching?
  • How severe are the twitches?
  • Where are you having the twitches?
  • Do you have muscle twitches in more than one location?
  • Is the twitching constant or does it come and go? How long does it last?
  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as weakness?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • What other medical conditions do you have?

During the physical examination, your doctor will likely test your reflexes and evaluate your nervous system. Your doctor may also test your muscle strength and overall musculoskeletal health. Depending on the results, testing may be necessary, including:

  • blood tests to check your blood chemistry, electrolytes, and thyroid hormone levels
  • electromyography, which tests a muscle’s activity
  • muscle ultrasound, which can be used Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source as an alternative to electromyography
  • imaging exams of the brain and spine, including CT and MRI scans
  • a nerve conduction study, which measures how well nerves carry impulses

What are the treatments for muscle twitching?

It may not be necessary to treat muscle twitching if it results from a mild, temporary condition like caffeine consumption or physical exertion. In these cases, the twitching may resolve with some self-care strategies, such as getting rest and decreasing your caffeine intake.

If the twitching is due to a tic that impairs your quality of life, medications or behavioral therapy may help Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source manage it.

Additional treatment may be necessary for chronic or severe underlying conditions like kidney disease or a brain injury. Your doctor will help you develop a treatment plan for your individual situation.

What are some potential complications of muscle twitching?

Muscle twitches are common events that may increase in frequency during times of stress or anxiety. However, chronic or severe muscle twitching can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition or disease that requires treatment to prevent complications.

Following your doctor’s treatment plan is the best way to reduce your risk of complications, including:

  • brain damage
  • disability or difficulty performing daily tasks
  • impaired balance and coordination
  • loss of vision and blindness
  • neurological problems, such as memory loss or confusion
  • paralysis or loss of strength
  • permanent loss of sensation or chronic pain

When should you see a doctor for muscle twitching?

Muscle twitches may resolve on their own. However, there are times when contacting a doctor is the safest option to determine the underlying cause.

Make an appointment with your doctor for muscle twitching when:

  • the twitching occurs in more than one area
  • the twitching is severe or persistent
  • weakness accompanies the muscle twitching

In some cases, muscle twitching can be a sign of a life threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care or call 911 if you experience:

  • diminished pulse
  • change in level of consciousness or alertness
  • change in mental status or sudden behavior change
  • difficulty with memory, thinking, or comprehension
  • high fever 
  • loss of muscle coordination
  • paralysis or inability to move a body part
  • seizures
  • severe headache
  • slurred or garbled speech or inability to speak
  • sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain
  • vomiting

Summary

Muscle twitching can be caused by various conditions, some of which are temporary and some chronic or life threatening.

If you are experiencing severe or persistent muscle twitching, contact your doctor for a diagnosis and proper treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Jun 15
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