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So many people have muscle twitching, and it’s often misidentified as a muscle spasm. Both are involuntary contractions of a muscle, but muscle spasms and muscle twitching aren’t the same thing. Muscle spasms are lengthy muscle contractions and are often painful. Muscle twitches, on the other hand, are short contractions that sometimes occurs repeatedly. Such movement can be uncomfortable though harmless in most cases, like the eye twitch, but it isn’t usually painful. 

The same practices that prevent or end muscle spasms can also prevent or end muscle twitches. The controversy is this: it is possible for most people to avoid either completely. 

SPASMS

Swimming across the pool or running on the track, for example, can produce spasms. Suddenly, we may experience a sharp pain in our foot or leg. Muscle cramps, though common, are mostly harmless.  

Loren Fishman, MD, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Columbia University and the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation says, “Muscle spasms usually occur in the calf or thigh, but they can also happen in one’s arms, hands, or one’s stomach muscles or along the rib cage.” 

Muscle spasms can be uncomfortable and painful while they exist, often resulting in the inability to use the affected area for a short time. 

Though many things are thought to contribute to muscle spasms, there is ongoing controversy on exactly what causes them. Many of the most common and accepted explanations include dehydration, lack of sleep, caffeine in excess, or stress. Some experts even think it’s a side effect of medicine. Others think spasms are due to insufficient minerals like magnesium or calcium.

Muscle spasms are involuntary and affect everyone, and Fishman says, “It’s better to consider how to diminish the likelihood of muscle spasms happening rather than preventing them entirely.”

Fishman and other experts say stretching the muscle and blocking the contraction can help aid the pain, and hydrating before and during exercise can also be effective.

Even consider, if you have them too often, whether spasms can be a part of medical conditions like kidney disease, Serotonin syndrome, or Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).

Experts suggest seeing your family physician if muscle spasms occur as the result of an injury, or if your muscles are spasming regularly or if symptoms don’t resolve with stretching, hydration, improved sleep or after temporarily stopping the physical activity that caused the cramp altogether.

Muscle messages are controlled by our central brain and spinal cord and by the peripheral nervous system or PNS. The PNS is the part of our nervous system that gives information into our brain and carries the transmitted signals that move our muscles.

“Almost always this is due to motor nerves that send signals from the spine or brain to the receptors,” explains Fishman.

TWITCHES

And now we come to “involuntary” twitching. Such factors and others include dehydration, stress, medication, caffeine, a pinched nerve, damaged nerve cells or lack of sleep. 

Fishman says twitching can also be connected to an anxiety disorder or as a result of a poor nutrition. “Twitching can occur when your basic electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, or calcium are abnormally high or low,” adds Fishman. 

An associate medical director of sports medicine at Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, Anthony Beutler, MD, says it’s all about “short circuits in the muscle’s nervous system.” Beutler says that “there is no single or foolproof way to stop twitches, and these include stretching muscles indicated a healthcare professional.” 

Fishman says that eating healthy foods and drinking lots of water can also help one naturally get enough electrolytes to ease symptoms of muscle twitching. “Activities that lightly use and soothe the muscles and cause your emotions to relax can also be helpful,” he adds.  

Muscle twitching can be difficult to ascertain since many things can contribute to it happening. Fortunately, it’s rarely serious, often passes on its own, and usually not connected to chronic health conditions. Therefore, under most circumstances, the experts say muscle twitching isn’t something to be worried about. 

Though if twitching persists and gets progressively worse over time, Beutler advises to make an appointment with your primary care physician (PCP) to find out, starting with blood tests, if your worry has basis.

Joyce Hoffman

Joyce Hoffman

Joyce Hoffman is one of the world's top 10 stroke bloggers according to the Medical News Today. You can find the original post and other blogs Joyce wrote in Tales of a Stroke Survivor. (https://talesofastrokesurvivor.blog)
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