Working as a physiotherapist in Burnaby for many years, I usually get a few people asking me every year about their muscle twitching. People are often concerned if it is something bad, or if there is another underlying issue causing the twitches.
Muscle twitches are spontaneous, fine, and fast muscle contractions that can look like worms crawling under your skin if it is continuous and involving multiple muscle groups. This twitching will stop when you use the muscle, and it continues once you rest it. The common areas you get this is on your eyes, thumb, arms, feet, and legs especially the calf muscle. Some people also experience numbness and tingling along with twitching.
Muscle twitching can be a sign of more serious conditions such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and other motor neuron diseases, but only if there are other symptoms alongside like difficulty walking, talking, swallowing, and progressive weakness. If the main symptom is only muscle twitching, it is unlikely to be a sign of a more serious condition. Most of the time, this harmless twitching is considered to be Benign Fasciculation Syndrome (BFS).
So What Causes Bfs?
Normally, the brain sends information through the nerves to move and this is done through a process of chemical and electrical changes. Our bodies are very sensitive to changes in the environment because this is the primary mode of communication between cells.
When there is a change in how a signal is sent to the muscle or a change in how a muscle receives a signal, an involuntary muscle twitch can occur. These changes can be caused by altering pH levels, chemicals, and vitamins required for muscle contraction and can be due to:
1) Stress and anxiety
3) Intense exercise
5) Alcohol or caffeine
7) Low phosphate levels
8) Mercury intoxication
Some common drugs that may cause twitching are:
1) Corticosteroids like prednisone and hydrocortisone commonly used to treat inflammatory diseases and conditions
2) Beta agonist drugs like Ventolin and Foradil commonly prescribed for asthma
3) Allergy drugs like Benadryl and Sudafed commonly used off the shelf
If there are other symptoms and signs accompanying the twitching, the doctor may choose to do further investigations. To get a clear diagnosis of what is causing these twitches doctors would need to order blood tests, nerve tests, complete a neurological assessment, and a thorough medical history. As well, the doctor will likely follow the case for about 5 years to see if there are any developing or progressive signs of other possible diseases causing the twitching.
What Can I Do To Stop The Twitching??
If you do not have any other symptoms other than muscle twitching, here are a few things you can try at home.
1) Ensure you have adequate hydration. The best way to do this is to examine the color of your urine. Take a look at the urine color chart on the right. Ideally, you would want to have a clear urine color. The darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are.
2) Avoid energy drinks. These drinks usually contain lots of caffeine which can increase the amount of ATP, or energy in the muscle and cause twitching.
3) Eat a healthy wholesome diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. This will provide the proper micronutrients for muscles and nerves to prevent muscle twitching.
4) Get enough sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours a day to maintain proper hormone levels. Altered levels can increase the excitability of nerves causing twitches.
5) Manage stress by talking to a friend, meditating, or exercising. High-stress levels can also alter your hormones which can increase the excitability of nerves.
6) Talk to your doctor if you noticed your twitching started after any medications. As mentioned previously, some medications can cause muscle twitching as a side effect.
Is Treatment Required?
If it is true benign fasciculation syndrome, no treatment is necessary because the twitching will eventually cease on its own.
For the small population where the twitching is prolonged and consistent, and addressing the concerns listed above has not resolved the issue, talk to one of our Burnaby Physiotherapists as acupuncture may be something that can help. Acupuncture treatments can help regulate the function of nerves as well as regulate and balance the cellular environment and your nervous system to stop the twitching.
If you would like to try medications, talk to your doctor. Research has shown gabapentin may be a drug that can help, and your doctor may be able to assist.
If you have any further questions or comments about this topic, please contact one of our Physiotherapists in Burnaby. We are always happy to help!