Read below about involuntary movements, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your involuntary movements from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Muscle twitching

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Involuntary Movements Symptoms

Involuntary movements refers to the jerking, shaking, or uncoordinated motions that may accompany some forms of neurological illness. "Involuntary" means that you have no control over said movements and they sometimes can be worsened by certain activities. Involuntary movements are commonly called tics, tremors, or dystonia [1].

Characteristics:

There are three basic types of involuntary movements.

  • Myoclonus is muscle jerking, in which the muscles suddenly tighten and release [2]. Everyone has experienced this with hiccups or "sleep start," the sudden jerk that may happen just as a person falls asleep. These types of myoclonus are normal, but the condition can become severe and greatly disrupt normal life.

    • Action myoclonus, triggered by trying to move.
    • Stimulus-sensitive myoclonus, triggered by noise, light, or being startled.
    • Essential myoclonus occurs for no known reason and usually stabilizes over time.
    • Epileptic myoclonus, a form of epilepsy.
    • Secondary myoclonus, due to neurodegenerative disease.
  • Dystonia is involuntary muscle spasm, where the muscles contract and don't want to release. This produces meaningless, uncoordinated movements.

    • It may be initiated by voluntary motion, especially specific activities such as writing or playing a musical instrument.
    • It worsens with stress or fatigue.
    • It may affect the eyelids, jaw, tongue, lips, lower face and neck, vocal cords, and upper or lower extremities.
    • Neck muscle contraction is sometimes painful and causes the head to be held at odd angles.
  • A tremor is simple shaking or trembling of any part of the body [3]. The movements are usually not as pronounced as in myoclonus. It tends to be most noticeable in the hands and often increases with stress.

    • Essential tremor is the most common type and can be a condition in itself, unrelated to any other disease. It is triggered by posture or movement and produces uncontrolled trembling, often affecting the head and/or speech.
    • Intention tremor occurs when beginning to make a movement.
    • Resting tremor means you're not moving but some muscles, especially those in your hand, may still be trembling.

Duration of symptoms:

  • Many conditions that cause involuntary movements are not curable, though nearly all can be managed with medication, physical therapy, counseling, and sometimes surgery.

Who is most often affected by involuntary movements?

  • Symptoms of these disorders rarely begin before age 40 and usually don't appear until after age 60 to 70.
  • Some disorders do have juvenile forms that can appear before age 20.

Are involuntary movements serious?

  • Becoming exhausted and dehydrated through physical work or sports or allowing blood sugar to drop too low (hypoglycemia), can produce shaking and signs of incoordination. As long as these resolve with rest, fluids, and food, it is not serious.
  • Any other kind of tremor or involuntary movement should be seen by a medical provider right away.
  • Anyone with a history of dystonia who is also undergoing physical or emotional shock – such as surgery, injury, or the loss of a loved one – is at risk for severe dystonia that can be life-threatening.

Involuntary Movements Causes Overview

Many conditions can cause the symptom of involuntary movements. We've listed several different involuntary movement causes here, in approximate order from most to least common:

Physical involuntary movement causes:

  • Exhaustion from hard work or exercise.
  • Dehydration.
  • Low blood sugar [4].

Drug reactions:

Many drugs and medications can cause involuntary movement syndromes [5].

  • Prescription medications.
  • Illegal drugs.
  • Abused medications.
  • Antipsychotic medications.
  • Alcoholism.

Abnormal functioning of the part of the brain that coordinates movement, due to:

  • Head or spinal cord injury [6].
  • Stroke.
  • Brain tumor.
  • Diseases which cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
  • Infection.
  • Kidney and/or liver failure [7].
  • Chemical or drug poisoning.

Psychological involuntary movement causes:

  • This is more common in women and severely interferes with quality of life [8].
  • The cause is entirely psychological and may involve mental illness:

Neurological, or neurodegenerative, diseases:

  • These are progressive illnesses and slowly get worse over time [9].
  • They are caused by disorders of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, due to:

    • Heredity. Many neurodegenerative illnesses run in families and are inherited, though not all family members need to be affected.
    • Autoimmune conditions. The body's own immune system turns against some of its other systems – in this case, the nervous system. The reasons for this are not clear.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Involuntary Movements

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced involuntary movements. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)

    Anxiety is a common emotion from time to time; however, persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worrying are signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person worries more days than not for at least six months and has symptoms like fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

    With long-term care, symptoms can be controlled with talk therapy, medication, and self-care.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea
    Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad):
    general anxiety (stress)
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Low Calcium Level

    Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.

    Problem should go away with home care within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy

    Nerve damage in the limbs can be caused by diabetes, toxic substances, immune system issues and low vitamin levels. However, in about one of every four cases no cause can be found and then the condition is called 'idiopathic'. Symptoms of nerve damage can be (burning) pain sensations, numbness, tingling and weakness in hands, feet or lower legs.

    This is a chronic condition.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Parkinson's Disease

    Parkinson's disease is a lifelong condition movement disorder. It is caused by the malfunction and death of nerve cells which results in symptoms like tremors.

    Parkinson's disease is a lifelong condition with no cure, however, medication and behavioral modifications may help manage symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, nausea, constipation
    Symptoms that always occur with parkinson's disease:
    symptoms of parkinsonism
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Cervical Dystonia (Spasmodic Torticollis)

    Cervical dystonia is a pain condition in which the neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing the head to twist or turn to one side. It can also cause the head to uncontrollably tilt forward or backward.

    This condition often goes away and returns on its own. While it is considered incurable, symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in the back of the neck, tremor, spontaneous neck pain, repetitive abnormal head and neck posturing
    Symptoms that always occur with cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis):
    repetitive abnormal head and neck posturing
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Generalized Tonic - Clonic Seizure

    A seizure is a short burst of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. A generalized tonic-clonic seizure affects both halves of the brain, and comes in two phases (tonic and clonic). The tonic phase is characterized by rigidity of all muscles and loss of consciousness. Saliva may escape the mouth, and the bladder may contract, releasing urine. The clonic phase follows, when the body appears to shake. This may last from seconds to minutes. The person gradually regains consciousness. A seizure may be caused by an underlying disease such as epilepsy, or by triggers such as heavy drinking, drugs, or anxiety.

    Outlook depends on the cause of the seizures, but is a lot better than people realize. Medication can almost always fully control seizures.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, brief fainting episode, confusion/disorientation after returning to consciousness, not having protected the body during the fall, eyes rolling back while passing out
    Symptoms that always occur with generalized tonic-clonic seizure:
    being severely ill, loss of consciousness without remembering, confusion/disorientation after returning to consciousness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  7. 7.Brain Tumor or Mass

    A brain lesion can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Nonetheless, they are a potentially serious issue and should be discussed with a physician.

    Uncertain. Prognosis is very dependent on what is found

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with brain tumor or mass:
    focal neurological symptoms
    Urgency:
    In-person visit

Involuntary Movements Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • There are symptoms of "dystonic storm." This is an acute, overall dystonic contraction that can paralyze the respiratory muscles. The person usually remains conscious but will not be able to speak, since the extensive spasms affect the muscles of the face and throat.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Referral for counseling or other assistance with stress management, if you're either the patient or a caretaker.
  • Discussion of physical therapy, which is sometimes helpful for these involuntary movement symptoms.
  • Discussion of medication to ease symptoms of movement disorders. There are a number of medications that are quite effective.
  • Discussion of surgery for severe cases that are not helped by other methods.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Make changes in diet, sleep, and exercise in order to improve overall health.
  • Many forms of involuntary movement improve with relaxation techniques and appropriate sensory stimulation.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Involuntary Movements

  • Q.Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our involuntary movements symptom checker to find out more.

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Involuntary Movements Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced involuntary movements have also experienced:

    • 4% Fatigue
    • 3% Headache
    • 3% Muscle Aches
  • People who have experienced involuntary movements were most often matched with:

    • 36% Low Calcium Level
    • 36% Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy
    • 27% Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. What is Dystonia? Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Dystonia Foundation Link.
  2. Myoclonus Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 6, 2018. NINDS Link.
  3. Tremor. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated January 29, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  4. Nakajima N, Ueda M, Nagayama H, Katayama Y. Hypoglycemia-Induced Spontaneous Unilateral Jerking Movement in Bilateral Internal Capsule Posterior Limb Abnormalities. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2014;338(1-2):220-222. NCBI Link.
  5. Medication-Induced Movement Disorders. Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Mind Disorders Link.
  6. O'Suilleabhain P, Dewey Jr. RB. Movement Disorders After Head Injury: Diagnosis and Management. The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. 2004;19(4):305-313. NCBI Link.
  7. Action Myoclonus-Renal Failure Syndrome. Genetics Home Reference. Published December 4, 2018. GHR Link.
  8. Peckham EL, Hallett M. Psychogenic Movement Disorders. Neurologic Clinics. 2009;27(3):801-vii. NCBI Link.
  9. Movement Disorders. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. AANS Link.
  10. Psychogenic Movement Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 2, 2018. NINDS Link.