An Overview of Muscle Twitches

Multiple sclerosis is one possible cause

Muscle twitching occurs when nerves misfire, causing groups of muscle fibers to contract. This is common to multiple sclerosis (MS), due to nerve fiber damage that affects signaling between your nerves and muscles.

But there are other possible causes of the various types of muscle twitching too, from fatigue and nutrient deficiency to thyroid disease and more. Some are benign, but others require medical attention.

If you have MS, your muscle twitching may be due to your disease. Or it could be owed to one of these other causes that you may not realize you're living with as well. It's important to sort out the why behind what you're experiencing.

Likewise, for those who have not been diagnosed with MS, it's best not to ignore this symptom, as you may have a condition that requires treatment. There are three types of muscle twitching, each of which has some level of uniqueness to them.


Spasticity describes muscle tightness and stiffness, as well as spasms that can be constant or sudden; some people describe these as a twitch.

Spasticity is a common symptom in MS and often affects one or both of the legs. It results from disrupted signals between the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons. In other words, there is impaired nerve transmission from the brain and spinal cord to the nerves that control your muscles.

Other conditions that may cause spasticity include:


Clonus describes the repetitive jerking or twitching of muscles and, like spasticity, is thought to be caused by the faulty nerve transmission characteristic of MS. For example, the normal ankle jerk reflex is instead hyperactive and the muscle that controls the ankle shakes rhythmically and uncontrollably.

Three types of muscle twitching.
 Gary Ferster / Verywell

In more severe cases, the knee-jerk reflex is hyperactive and the muscle that controls the knee shakes rhythmically and uncontrollably.

Other causes of clonus include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Brain tumor
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hereditary spastic paraparesis
  • Infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Major injuries to the nerves in the brain or spinal cord
  • Stroke


Lower motor neurons transmit nerve signals from your spinal cord to your muscles. When these nerve signals are disrupted, muscle weakening and wasting will eventually occur, along with uncontrollable muscle twitching called fasciculations. 

Fasciculations are a hallmark symptom of diseases that affect the lower motor neurons, like ALS. Other lower motor neuron diseases that may cause fasciculations include post-polio syndrome, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and progressive muscular atrophy.

Multiple sclerosis very rarely involves the lower motor neurons, which is why fasciculations are usually not a symptom of the disease.

Besides neurological diseases, fasciculations may also be a symptom of certain diseases and conditions outside the nervous system, such as:

  • An overactive thyroid gland
  • An overactive or underactive parathyroid gland 
  • Electrolyte abnormalities (e.g., low phosphate levels or high calcium levels)
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, magnesium, and potassium

Benign Muscle Twitching

It's important to understand that a run-of-mill muscle twitch here and there is likely nothing to worry about. Twitching can occur in healthy people and rarely signals the presence of an underlying disease, especially if it occurs without other symptoms.

Muscle twitches that are unrelated to an underlying disease or abnormality can be triggered by a number of things, including:

  • Certain medications, such as water pills or steroid medicines
  • Exposure to extreme cold
  • Hyperventilation
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Tiredness or lack of sleep
  • Too much caffeine or alcohol

In these instances, muscle twitches are benign and short-lived, meaning they are not a serious health concern, and come and go quickly.

Two uncommon conditions called benign fasciculation syndrome and cramp fasciculation syndrome cause frequent muscle twitches and, in the latter case, muscle cramps. These conditions are believed to be due to hyperexcitable nerves and are not associated with loss or nerve or muscle function.


Every disease and condition has its own set of established or widely accepted criteria for diagnosis.

To determine the underlying cause of your muscle twitching, your healthcare provider will likely do a physical examination and ask you questions such as:

  • When your muscles began twitching
  • Where the twitches occur
  • How often the twitches occur
  • How long the twitches last
  • If you're having any other symptoms

If the healthcare provider suspects your muscle twitching may be due to an underlying condition, they may order blood tests, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a computed tomography (CT) scan, or electromyography to assess the health of your muscles and the nerve cells that control them.

Even though it may be likely that muscle twitching is due to your MS, if you've been diagnosed, there's also a possibility that you could be dealing with a secondary issue that's causing this symptom.


Treating the underlying cause of muscle twitches is the primary concern, and it may stop the twitching. What that entails, of course, depends on what condition is at the root of the symptom.

Generally, speaking, medications that may be used to specifically address spasticity and clonus include:

  • Neuromuscular blockers
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Benzodiazepines

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do muscle spasms feel like when you have multiple sclerosis?

    An MS muscle spasm might feel like a tight muscle or a painful contraction of the muscle. It could make it difficult to bend or straighten your leg, for example.

  • What causes fasciculations?

    Fasciculations, or muscle twitches, happen where the tips of the nerves, called axons, meet your muscles. A nerve fires an electrical impulse and triggers the release of a chemical between the axon and muscle, causing the muscle to contract. When this happens involuntarily, it could be caused by caffeine or stress or, in rare cases, a medical condition like ALS.

  • How do you stop fasciculations?

    If you are starting to notice muscle twitches, you can try the following tips to stop them:

    • Get enough sleep
    • Avoid caffeine
    • Find ways to relax and destress
    • Eat nutritious foods

    If your muscle twitching is constant or has been recurring for a few months, or you have additional symptoms, check with your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  10. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Cramp-fasciculation syndrome

  11. Cleveland Clinic. Electromyograms.

  12. Chang E, Ghosh N, Yanni D, Lee S, Alexandru D, Mozaffar T. A review of spasticity treatments: pharmacological and interventional approachesCrit Rev Phys Rehabil Med. 2013;25(1-2):11–22. doi:10.1615/CritRevPhysRehabilMed.2013007945

  13. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Spasticity.

  14. ALS Association. What do fasciculations or muscle twitching mean? Q & A with Edward Kasarskis, MD, PhD.

  15. TeensHealth. What causes muscle twitches? The Nemours Foundation.

Additional Reading
  • Hersh C MH, Fox RJ. Multiple sclerosis. Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education.

  • Younger DS. Motor Disorders. Brookfield, CT: Rothstein Publishing

By Julie Stachowiak, PhD
Julie Stachowiak, PhD, is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award, Health Category.