What is muscle twitching?

Muscle twitching after exercise is usually perfectly normal and does not indicate a more serious condition.
Muscle twitching after exercise is usually perfectly normal and does not indicate a more serious condition.

Muscle twitches, also known as fasciculations, can be alarming, making people fear the worst-case scenario. However, there are several reasons that you might experience muscle twitching after a workout. Most of these are perfectly normal and do not indicate a more serious condition.

Muscle twitches are a type of muscle spasm, the involuntary contraction of a muscle. Muscle spasms can occur as brief twinges, a sudden contraction that may make the muscle visibly twitch. They can also occur as cramps, more sustained and painful contractions.

Most people will experience muscle spasms at some point in their life. There are many potential causes, including:

Muscle twitching can also be a symptom of certain neurological disorders. If your muscles often twitch in the absence of known causes, you should speak to your doctor.

Signs and symptoms of muscle twitching after exercise

Post-workout muscle spasms can vary in intensity and duration. These spasms may feel like a stabbing pain or a mild tic. A muscle may only contract once in a brief twitch, or it may continue to twitch for a short period of time. The muscle under the skin may feel hard or visibly twitch while contracting.

If the muscle cannot relax after contracting, the spasm becomes a cramp. Cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes.

In healthy adults, post-workout spasms are most commonly experienced in the lower leg in a cramp sometimes called a “charley horse." However, spasms may also affect other areas of the body. Common areas include:

  • Feet
  • Hands
  • Arms
  • Abdomen

Spasms may occur during exercise, immediately after, or up to several hours later. They should resolve on their own.

Causes of muscle twitching after exercise

There are several reasons that exercise might cause your muscles to twitch. Factors include:

Dehydration and mineral deficiency

Exercise, particularly in hot weather, can cause dehydration. When you sweat, you lose both water and essential minerals. A lack of fluids and/or electrolytes can cause muscles to spasm.

Muscle fatigue

Overuse can fatigue the muscles, which can interfere with normal neural activity and cause the spine to make muscles contract. In addition, muscles need oxygen, and overexertion depletes the body’s supply.

Sudden changes in intensity can also overtax muscles not yet used to this new activity.

Insufficient stretching

Regular stretching lengthens muscle fibers so that they can contract and loosen more easily. Gentle stretching as part of a warmup also helps prepare muscles for the workout ahead.

Risk factors

Some people are more likely to experience muscle spasms than others. You might be more susceptible to muscle twitching if you are:

  • Ill
  • Obese
  • Taking certain medications
  • A young child or an older adult
  • An athlete returning to train after a period of inactivity

When to see the doctor for muscle twitching

The occasional twitch after exercising doesn’t require a doctor’s visit. However, you should see a doctor to rule out nervous disorders if your muscles frequently twitch and you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Long-term twitching
  • Weakness
  • Loss of or change in nerve sensation
  • Loss of muscle size

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Diagnosing muscle twitching after exercise

If you are concerned about muscle twitching after workout, you should consult your doctor. In order to make sure that twitches are the natural result of exercise, your doctor will take a detailed history. Be prepared to answer questions about:

  • The location of the twitching
  • Its duration
  • Its frequency
  • Its onset or when you first noticed the twitching
  • Other symptoms

If your doctor thinks it necessary, they perform any of the following tests:

Treatments for muscle twitching after exercise

In general, muscle twitches should subside on their own. To provide quicker relief, you can:

  • Stop the activity that led to the cramp
  • Gently stretch or massage the muscle
  • Apply heat to the cramp

You can also help prevent future spasms by increasing your overall level of fitness, both flexibility and endurance. You should also warm up and stretch before any intense activity.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/18/2020
References
ALS Association: "What Do Fasciculations or Muscle Twitching Mean?"

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo: "Muscle Cramps."

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: official publication of the World Federation of Neurology Research Group on Motor Neuron Diseases: "Prevalence and distribution of fasciculations in healthy adults: Effect of age, caffeine consumption and exercise."

Clinical Methods: The History, Laboratory, and Physical Examinations: "Muscle Cramps."

Scripps: "4 Things That Trigger Muscle Spasms and Cramps."

University of Florida Health: "Muscle Twitching."