Many people experience muscle twitches and spasms. A small, involuntary muscle twitch is a fasciculation, and more are the result of issues such as too much stress or lack of sleep. Some people are more prone to muscle twitches and may experience them after any amount of physical exertion. In rare cases, fasciculations and muscle spasms can be symptoms of neurological disorders. Treatments for neurological disorders are much more complex, and diagnosis may require extensive medical evaluation.
Insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation can have serious side effects depending on how long it lasts. Without sleep, many of the body’s functions fail to start or do not operate efficiently. One of the more general causes of muscle spasms is muscle overuse. The body cannot fully heal muscles without sleep, so the muscles become overworked and begin to twitch. Additionally, sleep helps regulate the chemicals responsible for mood, stress, and depression.
Anxiety and stress typically lead to muscle tension. This is part of the body’s stress response to deal with future threats. Unfortunately, there typically isn’t a direct effect and stress is more harmful than helpful. If the muscles remain tense for long periods of time, they begin to spasm. Any muscle in the body can experience stress-related tension, and the severity differs from person to person. During periods of extreme stress, the muscles may become stiff and difficult to move. People may experience periods of extreme pain originating in the muscle.
Muscle fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte deficiency all are possible causes of muscle cramps and spasms. Intense exercise can result in all three of these, and major muscle spasms can follow. Muscles such as the pectorals, calves, and lower back are all prone to tightness, and therefore are more likely to experience spasms. Preventing muscle spasms is usually as simple as drinking fluids and not overworking any single muscle group. A healthy diet with plenty of vitamins can also keep spasms at bay.
A shortage of any of the various nutrients and vitamins the body needs can lead to muscle cramps and spasms. For example, potassium helps the muscles move and provides nutrients for cells. Without potassium, a person experiences fatigue, weakness, and muscle cramps and spasms. Magnesium and calcium deficiencies are also common and can have similar effects. A healthy diet and proper nutrition ensure the body has all the materials it needs to take care of itself.
Just as a shortage of nutrients can cause fasciculations, an excess of certain items is unhealthy, too. Caffeine is a stimulant, and that’s largely why people drink it. The energy boost is helpful, but it sometimes comes at a cost. Many health studies have linked caffeine to headaches, restlessness, twitching, and muscle spasms. Typically, these side effects only occur if there is too much caffeine in a person’s system. A healthy adult should limit their caffeine intake to 400 milligrams each day. A 12-ounce cup of coffee contains around 260 milligrams of caffeine.
Medications that act as stimulants, and many others, can cause fasciculations as a side effect. Stimulant medications increase the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals affect reward-motivated behavior and alertness, respectively. While the chemicals are essential for daily life, any imbalance can result in serious issues. Muscle spasms are a common side effect of stimulant medications. Typically, physicians prescribe stimulants to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy.
Though the majority of spasms and fasciculations have an easily resolvable cause, sometimes they are a symptom of a neurological issue. Benign fasciculation syndrome is one such neurological disorder, and twitching of the eyelids, arms, legs, and feet is common. In some cases, even the tongue may spasm. The precise cause of benign fasciculation syndrome remains a mystery, but some physicians link the disorder to high levels of stress and vitamin deficiencies. The condition is usually irritating rather than debilitating and most people can lead largely normal lives with it.
Most people know ALS as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a condition that causes the death of the neurons that control the voluntary muscles. Without these neurons, the muscles become stiff and weak and may spasm. Eventually, those with ALS develop difficulty speaking, eating, and breathing. Around half of the individuals with ALS also experience cognitive or behavioral issues. These issues can present themselves as apathy, repeated actions, or a loss of inhibition. The disease doesn’t affect the sensory nerves in any meaningful way, so individuals retain their ability to see, smell, taste, feel, and hear.
An epileptic seizure is a period of intense muscle spasms involving many muscles at once. Most seizures last only a few minutes and do not have serious side effects. However, a seizure that continues for longer than several minutes is a medical emergency. There are usually two reasons for a seizure. The first is a temporary issue such as low blood sugar or a concussion. The second is any disease or issue that may cause a seizure for seemingly no reason. Sleep deprivation can result in seizures, as can many neurological diseases.
Despite popular belief, Tourette syndrome is not a purely verbal disorder. Tourette’s with coprolalia, outbursts of obscene or inappropriate language, is actually one of the rarer forms. Instead, most individuals with Tourette’s experience involuntary phonic or motor tics. These take the form of motions or sounds the individual is physically compelled to perform. Though a person may be able to suppress a tic, the resulting mental and physical strain poses a danger. Motor tics may present as blinking, sniffing, grunting, grimacing, or various specific movements. Due to their sudden nature, tics are almost identical to muscle fasciculations, though their cause is very different. In cases of minor motor tics, some physicians misdiagnose Tourette’s.
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