They are involuntary muscle contractions, visible under the skin, but they do not produce limb movement.
Common causes of muscle twitching
For the most part, fasciculations are more annoying than serious. In neurological terms, fasciculations are the spontaneous firing of a motor unit, a group of nerve and muscle cells that work together to contract a muscle.
With fasciculation, only one or a few of these units fire. Muscle contraction, also known as fasciculation, has many common causes. These include:
When a person exercises vigorously or for a prolonged period, they may experience muscle contractions. Research suggests that this muscle contraction can occur after exercise for two reasons:
- First of all, exercise can lead to muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue triggers contractions and cramps in overworked muscle fibers.
- Second, exercise can cause an electrolyte imbalance through sweating. Electrolytes play a role in muscle contraction. A loss of electrolyte within muscle fibers can cause spasms.
The arms and legs are common places to experience muscle contractions caused by overexertion. The hardest-worked muscles are more likely to contract, which can include the calf, thigh, or biceps, depending on the exercise.
Brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, play a role in transmitting information from the brain to the nerves that control muscle contraction.
Lack of sleep can affect the function of neurotransmitter receptors. This means that excess neurotransmitters can build up in the brain.
The impact that lack of sleep has on neurotransmitter function can lead to muscle contraction. A common place to experience tired muscle contractions is in the eyelid.
Drinking too much coffee, tea, or energy drinks that contain caffeine can cause muscle contractions. Caffeine is a stimulant. When a person has too much, caffeine can stimulate muscle contractions anywhere in the body.
The body needs calcium to support proper muscle function. Having a calcium deficiency can cause muscle contractions.
Calcium deficiency is known as hypocalcemia. People can get calcium from dairy products, soybeans, tofu, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
Magnesium also plays a role in keeping nerves and muscles healthy. Magnesium helps transport calcium across cell membranes to support nerve and muscle function.
Having a magnesium deficiency can cause muscle contractions anywhere in the body, including the face. Magnesium deficiency is known as hypomagnesemia. Causes of magnesium deficiency include:
- Poor diet
- Excessive alcohol consumption.
If people don’t address a magnesium deficiency, it can increase their risk for cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin D deficiency
Nerves need vitamin D to carry messages to and from the brain to the muscles of the body. Having a vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle weakness and spasms. Causes of vitamin D deficiency include lack of sun exposure and a poor diet.
Muscle mass is up to 75 percent water. Water also helps transport nutrients and minerals to the muscles to support their function.
When a person does not drink enough water, they can develop dehydration. Being dehydrated can cause muscle contractions.
Stress and anxiety
Experiencing psychological stress or high levels of anxiety can lead to excess muscle tension. This complication can lead to muscle contraction.
Muscle contractions caused by stress can occur anywhere in the body.
Certain medications can lead to involuntary muscle contractions. This reaction can be a side effect or due to drug interactions.
People can discuss side effects and drug interactions with their doctor when taking a new drug. They can also be the result of other stimulant and non-stimulant medications, such as:
- Benadryl (difenhidramina).
- Dramamine (dimenhidrinato).
- Sudafed (pseudoefedrina).
- Ritalin (methylphenidate).
Possible serious causes
Muscle contraction that is not explained by one of the common causes above may indicate an underlying health condition. Health conditions that can lead to muscle contraction include:
Pinched spinal nerve
A pinched spinal nerve, known as radiculopathy, can cause muscle spasms and contractions. Other symptoms include tingling or numbness in the foot or leg.
A herniated disc can cause a pinched nerve, often the result of trauma. When a disc in the spine is damaged, it can compress the corresponding nerve root.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
Muscle contraction can be a sign of a degenerative neurological condition called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
This is a rare condition. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis causes the function of a person’s nerve cells to gradually deteriorate.
Nerve cells, or neurons, control a person’s voluntary muscle function, allowing people to move. When a person’s neurons stop working, their muscles cannot function properly. This causes:
- Muscular weakness.
- Muscle spasms.
- Muscle waste.
Over time, a person with ALS may lose the ability to control their movements. This can make walking, talking, eating, and breathing difficult.
Isaac syndrome is a neuromuscular condition that can cause muscle contractions. A person with Issacs syndrome has overactive peripheral nerve axons.
This means that your nerves continually activate your muscle fibers. This causes muscle contractions even when someone is resting. Other symptoms of Isaac syndrome include:
- Muscular stiffness.
- Trouble relaxing muscles.
Muscle contraction can be a sign of lupus, although this condition is not common. Lupus is a long-term autoimmune condition in which a person’s body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
Lupus can cause certain muscle groups to become inflamed. This inflammation is called myositis. Muscle contraction is a symptom of myositis.
In rare cases, muscle contraction can be a sign of multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative condition that affects a person’s central nervous symptom.
A common symptom of multiple sclerosis is spasticity. Spasticity is when the muscles become stiff and contract involuntarily. Muscle contraction can be a sign of spasticity. Other symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Soft spot.
- Reduced sexual function
- Chronic pain.
- Changes in cognition.
- Dificulty to walk.
- Eye sight problems.
In this context, the treatment of fasciculation focuses on the treatment of the underlying condition.
Other causes of motor fasciculations can be:
- Spinal muscle atrophy, a genetic disorder of the spinal nerves.
- Paraneoplastic syndrome, a nerve disorder related to cancer.
- Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, a genetic disorder of the nervous system.
- Moersch-Woltmann syndrome, also known as “stiff person syndrome.”
Difference between a fasciculation and a spasm
A fasciculation and a spasm are involuntary contractions of a muscle, although they are not exactly the same. A muscle twitch is a short contraction that can occur repeatedly.
It can cause discomfort, but it is not usually painful. A muscle spasm is a prolonged contraction that can cause pain. Muscle spasms are also known as muscle cramps. They often occur after exercise.
Benign fasciculation syndrome
In addition to the known causes, there is a condition called benign fasciculation syndrome characterized by persistent tremors that can often affect a person’s quality of life.
With benign fasciculation syndrome, the contraction is often described as relentless, either continuously or in random episodes.
By definition, benign fasciculation syndrome is idiopathic, meaning it has no known cause.
Because of this, the diagnosis of benign fasciculation syndrome must be made in its entirety by exclusion, testing, and examination to rule out all other possible causes.
The term “benign” is not intended to minimize the disruption that benign fasciculation syndrome can cause in a person’s life.
As a chronic disorder, its very persistence can lead to a cascade of symptoms that further diminish a person’s ability to function. These may include:
- General fatigue
- Generalized muscle aches.
- Exercise intolerance (inability to exercise up to the expected limit).
- Globus sensation (the sensation of having something stuck in the throat).
- Paresthesias (a burning or stinging sensation in parts of the body),
- Muscle cramps, spasms, or tremors.
- Muscular stiffness.
- Myoclonic jerks (a sudden and involuntary muscle spasm).
- Hyperreflexia (the sudden onset of high blood pressure).
When accompanied by cramps or pain, the condition is generally referred to as cramp fasciculation syndrome.
Symptoms of muscle twitching
Symptoms of a nervous system disorder include:
- Loss or change in sensation.
- Loss of muscle size (wasting).
- Soft spot.
Diagnosis of muscle twitching
To determine the underlying cause of your muscle twitching, your doctor will ask:
- When the muscles began to tremble.
- Where the contractions occur.
- How often the contractions occur.
- How long the contractions last.
- If they have any other symptoms.
If the doctor believes that a person’s muscle twitching is due to an underlying condition, they will do a series of tests.
Your doctor may order blood tests, an MRI, a CT scan, or an electromyogram to assess muscle function and the health of your muscles and the nerve cells that control them.
Treatment and home remedies
Treating the underlying cause of muscle contractions is the primary concern of the treating physician, and can stop the contraction. Medications that can be used specifically to treat spasticity and clonus include:
- Muscle relaxants.
- Neuromuscular blockers.
Common causes of muscle twitching are easy to treat and prevent at home through lifestyle changes to keep nerves and muscles healthy and working well. These lifestyle changes include:
- Eat a healthier and more balanced diet.
- Take dietary supplements to address deficiencies.
- Moderate exercise, with adequate warm-ups and cooldowns.
- Reducing your caffeine intake.
- Get enough sleep.
- Avoid or manage stress with yoga, mindfulness, or meditation.
- Stay hydrated
If an underlying health condition is the reason for a person’s muscle contractions, the doctor will work with the person on a treatment plan.
Treatment of benign fasciculation
While some degree of control can be achieved with the use of beta-blockers and anti-seizure medications, no medication has ever been shown to fully control the symptoms of Benign Fasciculation Syndrome.
On the contrary, anxiety management has proven to be one of the most effective techniques for managing the symptoms of Benign Fasciculation Syndrome.
Anxiety has a cause and effect relationship with fasciculation: it can trigger an episode and aggravate its severity once it begins.
If your anxiety symptoms are severe, it is best to seek help from a trained mental health professional who can help you with anxiety reduction training or prescribe anti-anxiety medication.
Avoiding stimulants, including caffeine, is also highly recommended.
Muscle contraction has many everyday causes that are not serious. People can easily treat these causes at home and prevent them through specific lifestyle changes.
Some causes of muscle contraction are more serious, but these conditions are very rare. If a doctor diagnoses someone with a degenerative condition, such as multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, they will support them in managing their symptoms.
While these conditions have no cure, the right treatment plan can ensure that a person maintains a good quality of life.