What is a muscle twitch?

Muscle twitches have a variety of causes, many of which are minor. You should see your doctor if the twitches are continuous, cause weakness or muscle loss, affects multiple body parts, begin after a new medication or new medical condition.
Muscle twitches have a variety of causes, many of which are minor. You should see your doctor if the twitches are continuous, cause weakness or muscle loss, affects multiple body parts, begin after a new medication or new medical condition.

A muscle twitch (also called a fasciculation) is a fine movement of a small area of your muscle. It is caused by tiny muscle contractions and is not something you can control. 

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.

Your brain needs to receive a specific amount of nerve impulses to contract a muscle and to allow you to move your body. When this system becomes imbalanced, it can cause muscle twitching. 

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.  

Stress

Mental stress is one of the primary causes of muscle twitching. Triggered by anxiety or stressful situations, these kinds of muscle twitches are sometimes called “nervous ticks”.

Caffeine

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

Muscle twitches can be caused by nervous system conditions, including ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), spinal muscular atrophy, neuropathy (nerve damage), or myopathy (muscle disease). 

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:

  • Exercise
  • Medication side effects
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Pinched spinal nerves

A doctor can help determine the cause of your muscle twitching and how to best manage or reduce it.

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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

Placing a warm or cool compress or a damp washcloth on your affected muscle can relieve some discomfort. Similarly, gentle massage or stretching can help reduce muscle twitching. 

If your doctor finds that another medical condition is causing your muscle twitching, they will recommend an appropriate treatment.

Are sore muscles a good sign?

If you have ever had an intense workout and woken up with sore muscles the next day, you’re not alone. Even professional athletes and weightlifters are susceptible to sore muscles and stiffness from time to time. But are sore muscles a good sign?

Experiencing soreness in your muscles after exercise is pretty normal. Also called delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) or muscle fever, it usually occurs 12-72 hours after strenuous exercise, especially for beginners. 

When you work out a muscle that is rarely used, or you put strain on it with heavy weights, you’re causing tiny tears in your muscle fibers. Soreness is typically temporary, lasting as your muscles adapt and repair themselves. Gradually, your muscles grow larger and stronger.

However, DOMS may not always be a good sign if you have overdone it. Soreness is your body’s way of signaling that it’s time to decrease muscle activity to prevent further damage.

How to prevent delayed onset of muscle soreness

While DOMS can’t really be prevented, you can take some precautionary steps before working out to reduce the intensity of soreness and prevent it from worsening:

  • Make sure to do proper warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after your workouts. This can decrease the risk of tissue injury.
  • Wear compression workout clothing, which can keep your muscles constricted and reduce swelling.
  • Stay hydrated and eat foods rich in proteins, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Train with the help of a professional, certified trainer.
  • Avoid overstretching and lifting very heavy weights in improper forms or postures while exercising. It’s better to do lighter weights in more sets, and with proper form.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/7/2022
References
ALS Association: "What Do Fasciculations or Muscle Twitching Mean?"

Columbia University Department of Neurology: "Sleep Deprivation."

Healthline: "What You Need to Know About Muscle Twitching."

MedlinePlus: "Muscle twitching."

National Kidney Foundation: "Understanding Muscle Soreness - How Much Is Too Much?"

Neurology International: "Another Perspective on Fasciculations: When is it not Caused by the Classic form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Progressive Spinal Atrophy?"

NHS: "Why Do I Feel Pain After Exercise?"

The Ohio University Wexner Medical Center: "Why do my muscles twitch?"

Right as Rain by UW Medicine: "This Is Why You Have Sore Muscles Two Days After You Work Out."

Sports Medicine: "Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness : Treatment Strategies and Performance Factors."