Muscle cramp or muscle twitch?
Not to be confused with muscle cramps (which are strong, painful, involuntary contractions of the whole muscle), twitches are not painful and normally occur in muscle fibres rather than the whole muscle. Muscle twitching can last from a few minutes to a few weeks – twitches that last any longer than this can be an indication of an underlying health condition and should be checked by a doctor. Usually, however, they are not a cause for concern.
6 causes of muscle twitching
1) Poor nutrition and lack of electrolytes
Poor nutrition and absorption of nutrients can lead to muscle twitching. Electrolytes are involved in a wide variety of bodily processes and are essential for efficient muscle function. Most electrolytes play a role in how our muscles work;
- Calcium is important for muscle contractions and nerve signalling, deficiency can cause pins and needles in the hands and feet and lead to muscle twitches
- Potassium is also important for nerve signalling, and is involved in involuntary muscle processes like those surrounding the heart
- Magnesium works closely with calcium and helps to reduce muscle cramps and twitches.
An easy solution: Eat a more balanced diet containing more calcium-rich foods (like sweet potatoes), foods containing potassium (like salmon and broccoli), and foods containing magnesium (such as spinach and banana). Check out our healthy recipes page for some tasty ideas!
Dehydration affects the entire body from an external level to a cellular level. Blood flow to working muscles is significantly reduced when we are dehydrated which can impact the efficiency of our muscles to carry out functions like contraction and relaxation. When we sweat, urinate, vomit or excrete in other ways our body loses vital fluids and dehydration can be the result. We lose important electrolytes in this fluid too, such as potassium and calcium, which, as we already know, are essential for good muscle functioning.
An easy solution: Keep hydrated! Drink more water, particularly when exercising. The recommended daily amount of water is around 8 or 9 glasses. This may seem like a lot, and, let's face it, water isn't the most exciting of beverages! Why not try infusing your water with mint, strawberries or ginger? Alternatively you could look after your muscles as well as staying hydrated by mixing in a Balance Mineral Drink sachet which is full of magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
3) Antidepressant medications
Antidepressants in combination with other medication or St John’s Wort can result in too much serotonin in the brain (serotonin syndrome) and can lead to muscle twitching. Similar to caffeine some antidepressants have a stimulating effect and cause involuntary contractions of muscle fibres.
An easy solution: Never combine medication unless it has been approved by a qualified professional. Always speak to your doctor before attempting to alter your medication; they will be able to advise which antidepressants are best for you.
4) Too much caffeine
Your body is really clever in that it gives you clear signs when you’ve had too much caffeine. One of these signs is muscle twitching. The stimulants in high amounts of caffeine can cause small, involuntary tensions of muscle fibres across the body.
An easy solution: Try swapping some caffeine drinks for non-caffeinated. Now I’m not asking you to give up coffee entirely! But swapping one or two coffees for herbal tea or a caffeine-free drink will mean you won’t suffer from any muscle-twitchy side-effects from the caffeine in regular coffee. Bambu is a great coffee substitute which is caffeine-free and high in potassium which helps support cell activity as well as prevent muscle twitches.
5) Lack of sleep
Muscle twitching often happens after exercising or when the body is tired or sleep deprived. Our brain uses chemical signals to communicate with our body. When we are deprived of sleep our brain’s efficiency to send these signals is reduced, and it can send extra signals to our muscle fibres which results in a twitch.
An easy solution: Try to make sure you get 8 hours of sleep every night. Get up and go to bed at the same time to make sure your circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) is not disrupted by an irregular sleeping pattern. If you struggle to get to sleep or wake up regularly during the night consider trying a sleep remedy like Dormeasan to help you drift off to sleep. Dormeasan is a herbal sleeping aid and is used to restore a natural sleep without the groggy side-effects that can happen with sleeping medication.
Stress is another possible cause of muscle twitching. When our stress system is activated our body is prepared to fight off imminent danger. In response to this danger – whether it be fighting off a bear or dealing with stress caused from work overload – our nervous system behaves erratically. This behaviour also causes our nerve impulses to fire erratically, and since our nerve impulses are responsible for muscle control it comes as no surprise that stress can cause our muscles to twitch!
An easy solution: Managing your stress effectively will help to reduce the erratic firing of the nerve impulses. Exercise, meditation, or breathing techniques are useful tools to help alleviate stress. Herbal remedies can also be effective at reducing stress; I’d recommend Stress Relief Daytime which is made from fresh valerian and hops to help relieve mild anxiety and stress.
When is a twitch a cause for concern?
Although twitches are most often harmless, they can be a symptom of a serious underlying health condition, such as ALS or kidney disease. Check with a doctor if your twitch doesn’t go away, you feel weakness, numbness, or tingling around the affected muscle, or if you think the twitch is caused by an underlying health condition.