Potential Causes of Involuntary Movement

Involuntary movements are physical movements that you cannot control. These movements may be mild, such as a slight eye twitch, or very noticeable and affect movement of the arms, trunk, or neck. Involuntary movements can be caused by chronic disease, nerve damage, drug reactions, or brain damage.

Involuntary movements may be reversible, such as caused by drug side effects, or permanent. Working with a neurologist who specializes in brain disorders will help you determine what causes involuntary movements and how to treat them.

Types of

Our bodies can make several involuntary movements.


Tremors are involuntary shaking of the hands, head, or other parts of the body. They get worse when you try basic moves. About 5 million people in the United States were affected by the earthquake.

Essential tremor is a tremor with no known cause. It is estimated that about 50% of people with tremor have a family history. Tremors can be caused by:

  • multiple sclerosis
  • stroke
  • traumatic brain injury
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • drug side effects
  • alcohol abuse
  • Mercury poisoning
  • hyperthyroidism
  • liver or kidney failure
  • anxiety

Causes and treatment of tremors


Myoclonus is a rapid twitching or twitching of a muscle or muscle group. Myoclonus is considered a clinical symptom, not a disease. Myoclonus is usually the result of dysfunction in the part of the cerebral cortex of the brain or brain stem.

When these jerky muscle movements affect a muscle or group of muscles, they are called focal myoclonus. Irregular muscle movements that affect multiple muscle groups are called multifocal myoclonus.

There are several different types of myoclonus. The most common type, cortical myoclonus, is caused by an irregularity in the part of the brain’s sensorimotor cortex.

There are many chronic diseases that can cause myoclonus. They include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Angel Syndrome
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Rett syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

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tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is the result of long-term use of antipsychotic drugs. It is characterized by repetitive involuntary movements, such as grimacing or blinking. These movements are usually mild and can be reversed by stopping the medication.

However, chronic or permanent tardive dyskinesia may occur. Older adults are at greater risk for chronic TD than younger adults.


Tics are rapid, repetitive movements or unwanted sounds. They are often associated with Tourette syndrome, an inherited neurological disorder. Tics may also be associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The first symptoms are usually frequent involuntary movements of the face, arms, and legs.

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Tics may develop later in Tourette’s syndrome and include grunting, yelling, throat clearing, or barking. People who experience speech tics sometimes use obscene words or gestures. This can make it quite difficult for young people to socialize.

Seizures usually appear between the ages of 6 and 15. In most cases, they subside by the time a person is in their early 20s.

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Athetosis describes slow, writhing movements that usually affect the arms and hands. People with athetosis often involuntarily engage their bodies in uncomfortable, twisting movements.

It can start at any age and usually doesn’t improve on its own. Athetosis is often associated with chronic diseases such as cerebral palsy, Huntington’s disease, and Wilson’s disease. It is caused by irregularities in the basal ganglia part of the brain.

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Muscle twitching occurs when a muscle unexpectedly tightens or relaxes. Seizures are common and nearly every one of us experiences them.

Minor twitches include burping or jumping when you’re startled. Convulsions can also occur when you exercise, think about movements, fall asleep, or become sensitive to external stimuli.

However, tics may have underlying medical causes, such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.


There are several possible causes of involuntary movements. Some causes may be temporary, while others are chronic or permanent:

  • Nervous system disease
  • drug side effects
  • stroke
  • Brain Injury
  • tumor
  • head or neck trauma
  • genetic disease
  • Too much bilirubin (the yellow substance produced by the liver) in the blood
  • Hypoxia (lack of oxygen)
  • illegal drugs

There are several possible causes of many involuntary muscle movements. For example, myoclonus can be caused by low oxygen levels in the brain (hypoxia) or by metabolic processes such as kidney or liver failure. Spinal myoclonus can be caused by multiple sclerosis, syringomyelia, ischemic myelopathy, spinal trauma, or infection.


It is important to see your doctor if you have any involuntary movements, no matter how small. Your primary doctor may refer you to a specialist such as a neurologist or neurosurgeon.

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Your medical team will order tests to determine the underlying cause of your involuntary movements, including:

  • blood test
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head or affected body part
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head or affected body parts
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • lumbar puncture
  • Urinalysis

The diagnostic process usually begins with a thorough history and physical examination. Some questions your doctor may ask include:

  • When did the movement start?
  • Do they appear suddenly or slowly?
  • Does movement always exist or does it come and go?
  • Has your posture been affected?
  • Which body parts are affected by exercise?
  • Are they getting worse?
  • Have you noticed any activity that makes exercise worse, like exercising?
  • Do you notice them more when you’re stressed?
  • Have you started any new medications recently?
  • Does your family have involuntary movements?
  • Is there anything I can do to improve them?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?


Treatment of involuntary movements depends on the cause. Involuntary movements can be treated with medication, surgery, deep brain stimulation, or behavioral therapy.

Your doctor may recommend meeting with a physical therapist to stretch and strengthen any muscles affected by involuntary movements. Exercises your physical therapist may recommend include swimming, walking, stretching, and balance exercises.

These exercises can help slow damage from involuntary movements and promote coordination. This is especially useful if you are more prone to falls due to involuntary movements.

Some cases of involuntary movement cannot be cured. For example, tardive dyskinesia is caused by drug side effects. The only cure is to switch to a new class of antipsychotics. This often helps reverse the condition, but it doesn’t always work.


Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options:

  • antiepileptic drugs
  • Benzodiazepines
  • beta blockers
  • carbonic anhydrase inhibitor
  • Botox injection
  • Operation
  • deep brain stimulation


Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options:

  • Barbiturates
  • Phenytoin
  • primidone
  • Sodium Valproate
  • clonazepam


Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options:

  • Drugs that block dopamine
  • Stimulant drugs
  • Antidepressants
  • behavioral therapy


Your doctor may recommend the following treatment options:

  • clonazepam
  • Botox injection
  • avoid irritation
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The prognosis for involuntary movement can vary widely depending on the cause and the severity of the movement.

Some, such as tics, usually go away on their own in a person’s 20s. Others are chronic and require ongoing treatment. Talk to your neurologist about what causes your involuntary movements and how to treat them.


A variety of conditions can cause involuntary movements. They can be uncomfortable and some can be chronic, but in many cases there are treatment options that can help. If you experience any involuntary movements, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor so they can assess your symptoms and help you determine your next steps.

VigorTip words

Experiencing involuntary movement in your body is scary and may make you feel like you are no longer in control of your body. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. The first step is always to contact your doctor and get a complete medical history and physical examination. From there, your doctor will be able to diagnose you or refer you to a specialist for additional testing. It’s helpful to remember that most involuntary movements are treatable.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Causes Involuntary Movements?

    Involuntary movements are caused by a variety of conditions, including chronic disease, brain injury, lack of oxygen to the brain, medication side effects, and infections.

  • What is involuntary movement?

    Involuntary movement is any movement your body makes that is beyond your control. They may be small, such as eye twitches, or affect large areas of the body, such as athetosis.

  • What causes involuntary twitching movements?

    Involuntary jerking movements are called myoclonus or jerks. Most of us experience minor tics, such as hiccups or jumps when we’re in shock. Involuntary jerking movements can also be caused by chronic disease, low oxygen levels in the brain, brain or spinal trauma, or infection.

  • What causes involuntary muscle movements?

    Involuntary muscle movements can be caused by a variety of factors, including chronic disease, medication side effects, brain injury, stroke, trauma, or lack of oxygen to the brain. Working with a neurologist will help you determine what is causing your involuntary muscle movements and how to treat them.