What Are The Differences Between Tics And Twitches?

You probably know what it feels like when your eye spontaneously twitches or you suddenly jerk while trying to fall asleep. When describing these sensations, and many more involuntary movements, the terms tic and twitch are often used interchangeably. Twitches and tics seem very similar on the surface, but there is an important medical difference between them.

Twitches are something that nearly every person on the planet will experience, according to the Cleveland Clinic, while tics only affect approximately 1% of the world's population (via Tourette Association of America). Both tics and twitches are usually involuntary and uncontrolled movements, meaning that you can't control when they're going to happen. However, there are preventative steps and treatments for both tics and twitches if they become intrusive and affect your daily life.

Breaking down the difference between twitches and tics will help you become better informed about your body, and spread awareness of the various conditions that can make you tic or twitch — no pun intended!

What are twitches?

The term twitch is colloquially used as an umbrella term for spontaneous body movements, including muscle spasms. A twitch is usually an isolated incident, not a repeated occurrence, according to WebMD. The medical term for twitches is myoclonic jerks, which encompasses sudden jerks, quick muscle spasms, sleep starts, and even hiccups (per Mayo Clinic).

Spasm-based twitches occur most commonly in certain parts of your body, including arms and hands, calves, thighs, belly, ribcage, and arches of feet (via WebMD). These quick spasms can happen in a single muscle or within a group of muscles. There are factors that can trigger these muscle spasms, including not consuming enough electrolytes or water, having too much caffeine, being stressed, and being sleep-deprived. Some medications can cause twitches.

Twitches can be caused by nerves, like when someone snaps their fingers or experiences a twitching eye when they're feeling nervous. This type of twitch is called anxiety twitching and is a symptom of anxiety, reports Healthline. Muscle twitching can also be caused by hyperventilation. When someone is in an anxious state, their nervous system releases neurotransmitters that send signals between neurons and muscles, thus resulting in muscle movement even though there may not be a vital need for it. Managing anxiety-induced twitching involves treating the root cause of anxiety, including practicing mindfulness, seeking therapeutic options, and lifestyle changes. Always consult with healthcare providers who can help you create a customized treatment plan.

What are tics?

Unlike twitches, tics are repeated involuntary movements or sounds that a person makes (per The National Health Service (NHS)). Tics can be motor, meaning that they involve physical movements of the body, or vocal, including noises like hissing, throat clearing, and tongue clicking. There are several tic disorders that are medically diagnosed, with the most well-known being Tourette's syndrome.

Tics are most prevalent in childhood, usually appearing around age five, and they often disappear in adulthood, although some tic disorders can persist longer (via NHS). Tics are rapid, uncontrolled movements like wrinkling the nose, blinking, making grimacing facial expressions and physical contortions of the mouth, noises like grunting or coughing, and even strings of words, which are called complex vocal or phonic tics.

When tics cause disruptions in a person's life, a tic disorder may be diagnosed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), known tic disorders include Tourette's syndrome, chronic motor or vocal tic disorder, and provisional tic disorder. To be diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, a person must experience at least one vocal tic and one motor tic for no less than a year. Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder is diagnosed when a person presents with either vocal or motor tics, but not both. Provisional tic disorder occurs when other tic disorders have been ruled out, but a person is still experiencing intrusive tics. For all of these tic disorders, symptoms must first begin before age 18.