Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Apple #265: Muscle Twitches

I broke my toe about a week and a half ago (right foot, pinky toe) and I've been walking gimpy to keep from putting weight on it or bending it. It's been sore and when I'm sitting, it often feels like the blood is rushing to my foot, so I've had to change my position a lot and find a way to put my foot up off the floor. The past day or two it hasn't hurt as much or as often, though.

I'm not sure whose toe this is, but it's pretty close to what mine looked like about 10 days ago. Best thing to do for a broken toe, by the way, is tape it to the toe next to it.

I looked up how long it takes a broken bone to heal, and the best estimate I found, specifically for toes, was three weeks.

So that's not my question. My question springs from something related to the broken toe. Usually when I have my foot propped up or when I'm lying in bed trying to fall asleep, various muscles in my foot twitch like crazy. Sometimes for as long as ten minutes.

I've been getting muscle twitches elsewhere too, like in the back of my hand where it's all bony and you don't even really think about muscles being there, or another time in some strange tissue deep under my skin, or in my eyelid, or another time, right next to my ear. Little flutters happen in all sorts of places, one after another. It feels almost like tiny little fireworks are going off all over the place under my skin.

Like these, except much, much smaller.
(Photo from a July 4, 2007 entry of The Big Picture)

The muscle twitching has been happening often enough, I'm curious to know, what makes your muscles twitch?

  • Some muscle twitching -- especially if it's severe and prolonged -- can be related to neurological problems, or diseases like Parkinson's or Huntington's disease. Thinking of the recent interviews with Michael J. Fox, whose Parkinson's has progressed alarmingly, I know the kind of twitches I'm talking about are nowhere near this league.
  • Also, some facial twitching can be accompanied by severe facial pain. This can be a symptom of facial neuralgia. Again, I'm not talking about anything like this.
  • I'm also not referring to tics. Tics are brief, rapid, and repetitive involuntary movements, usually involving the face or mouth. Most people think of Tourette's syndrome in conjunction with tics, but people -- primarily children -- can develop tics under many other circumstances. While anxiety can increase the frequency of tics, the true cause or set of causes is unknown.

Still of a person with Tourette's syndrome, from a documentary about Tourette's, called Twitch and Shout

  • No, what I'm talking about are low-level, everyday kinds of twitches. Little muscular flutters that can happen in various and sometimes odd little places around the body. If you point them out one of these twitches to other people, most of the time, they can't see it.
  • The medical term for these twitches, by the way, is muscle fasciculation.

Sometimes the muscles that twitch are "deep muscles" like the ones indicated here.
(Image from Health.Allrefer.com)

  • Occasional, involuntary muscle twitches are most often responses to too much stress. Most commonly, it happens because your nervous system is overwrought by anxiety or lack of sleep, or you have over-exercised and your nervous system is trying to unload its built-up impulses.
  • (I think in my case, stress and anxiety are definitely a factor at the moment, and probably since I'm using my foot in weird ways when I walk, odd exercise might be contributing especially to the twitches in my foot.)
  • The place where people most commonly experience muscle twitching is around the eye.

(Image from Michelle Miller's marketing blog)

  • Usually the twitching occurs during periods of rest, when the body is no longer being required to respond to immediate stress.
  • Another thing that can give you the twitches is too much caffeine. By stimulating your system, caffeine can trick your body into thinking it's operating under fight-or-flight / high-stress circumstances. If your body is forced to perform under those circumstances for too long, or at very high levels, your nervous system and muscles will simply get tired and start twitching on you.
  • If you get dehydrated, your muscles can twitch as a response. Things that can make you dehydrated include exercise and caffeine.

Too much caffeine can make you twitchy.
(Image from Sovrana Coffee Trading Corporation)

  • Other drugs may also have this effect, including estrogens and corticosteroids. Cortisone and Prednisone are two types of corticosteroids. Other types of corticosteroids may be used in inhalants that treat asthma.
      • What I find interesting here is that when your body is under stress, your pituitary gland releases the body's own version of these drugs, cortisol. When the stress goes away, the cortisol leaves your system. So maybe if you're taking a corticosteroid which mimics cortisol, your body thinks it's under stress and sets the muscles twitching? That's just my guess.
  • Sometimes deficiencies in various minerals or vitamins may be the cause. It's hard to know exactly which mineral or vitamin may be in short supply, though. Taking a supplement or eating foods that include the following components may help:
      • Potassium (bananas) and magnesium (nuts) help to control muscles and the nerves that live in them. This is why Gatorade and other sports drinks contain potassium.
      • Calcium (dairy, figs) is also necessary for muscle control, and it is important for muscle growth, something that happens as a result of exercise.
      • Vitamin B12 (meat, dairy, fish) helps to calm the nervous system and, in my experience, can help to set a lot of things back in balance. Doctors often give B12 to people who are malnourished, or who have lately overdone it with the alcohol.

Eating these foods may help you fight off the shakes.
(Image from Medline Plus)

So it sounds like the best thing to do when my muscles are twitching like a pack of otters under my skin is try to relax and drink a lot of water. And maybe eat a few pieces of cheese for good measure.

By the way, my favorite quote from that Michael J. Fox interview (see above link) is this:

Everything is a slippery slope. Getting up in the morning is a slippery slope.

Diagnose Me, Muscle Cramps / Twitching
Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, Muscle twitching
Health Scout, Muscle cramps
Carol & Richard Eustice, The Facts of Corticosteroids, About.com, May 26, 2006
Encyclopedia of Medical Disorders, Tic disorders
Georgetown University Hospital, Magnesium in diet
BCHealthFiles, Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D
Health for the earth, Healthful Calcium Sources
NutriStrategy, Vitamin B12 - Sources and Functions


  1. Hi Apple Lady!

    I really enjoyed this entry. My favorite kind of muscle twitching is the kind that I get right before I fall asleep. I'm usually in this half-sleep half-awake state, and I know that my arm has just twitched and hit Mark in the face, but I'm not awake enough to apologize to him. I've always heard that these sleepy time twitches are your body's way of getting rid of all the extra electrical impulses it has stored up, before you go to sleep.

  2. Yeah, that's basically the kind of muscle twitching I'm talking about. Except in my case at the moment, it's happening almost all the time, day and night. My stress levels are pretty high, apparently.

    Once upon a time, in a half-asleep state, I accidentally hit Matt in the face. He nodded in his half-asleep state and murmured, "I love you."

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Hi Apple Lady,
    I have been experiencing much loss of sleep, stress and overall anxiety over the past few weeks (I own a retail store and in this economy, it's stressful and challenging needless to say). The twitching is so strange and odd, never had it happen before and is pretty unsettling... feeling like a volcano about to errupt from the inside out.

    My doctor told me I was stressed, but that often seems to be the canned answer from most DR's anyway about anything. She did tell me to take B12... I got some of the 550mg subliguals and that only made me intensely jittery.

    Your blog really helped explain so so so much. In fact, I did not seem to feel better until I drank some gatorade, had a banana and had to take a sickday just to get the additional rest I needed.

    Thanks for writing a blog that is easy to understand with easy solutions and friendly.

  5. (Sami here again), I meant to add that I did get some of the B12 tablets (not the sublinguals) and they seem much better :o)

  6. Hi Sami,

    I'm glad you were able to get those twitches to calm down. They really are odd, aren't they? It seems like something other than stress and anxiety surely must be at work with something so strange as that, but that's exactly what the problem was -- in my case, at least.

    Keep taking care of yourself, now, won't you? Your body -- and hopefully your store too -- will thank you.

  7. It can also be caused (if you're getting it a lot and not just every once in a while) by epilepsy. I am epileptic and have had that, particularly the twitching of the eye and face. Although obviously if you're having seizures it can affect your mouth, hand or foot. But the eye and face ones you wouldn't know them for what they were--it took me 6 months to get myself to a dr because of that and never having had a seizure like that before, I was getting them in my entire face and couldn't speak for a second or two, usually when reading or talking. Nobody probably would have known the difference but me. Turned out I was re-diagnosed with epilepsy--I was having focal seizures related to the speech-dominant part of my brain. Then after found out I was having a different type at night. But the point is, that not all twitches are just twitches. I had a lot of eye twitching in my early 20s (early 30s now) from epilepsy with not a lot of other obvious signs other than maybe tremulousness of my hands. All it takes is an EEG--I didn't get in to see a neurologist for 4 months and ended up treating myself more or less because I knew my dosages--but got in for the EEG in less than 2 weeks.

  8. I'm glad you got that figured out, and that you got the right treatment for it. Thanks for the added information. From your experience and other entries I've done about health issues, it seems a pretty good rule to follow that any unusual situation that persists for more than a couple weeks should probably trigger a visit to the doctor -- if you can get an appointment!

  9. I am so glad that I found this information! I have been experiencing major foot twitching with my left foot every night once I (try) to go to sleep. This will last for as little as 15 minutes to sometimes hour long bouts. My husband and I have been under a considerable amount of stress in the past year and unfortunately it is now effecting our marriage, which ultimately is causing even more stress! I have not been eating well which can also be a lack of getting the sufficent vitamins and minerals in my system. I am hoping that if I am more aware of the reasons why I might be having these night foot spasms, then I can go forward and begin with treating these issues with possible counciling, and a good vitamin regimine.


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