What Are Involuntary Movements?

Involuntary movements refer to motions of the body that cannot be controlled and occur of its own volition. Such movement can occur anywhere on the body, e.g. any limb, neck, face, etc. In some cases this lasts for a short time and remedies itself, but sometimes it is persistent and gets worse with time. We are going to look at the different types, causes and ways to deal with it.

Types of Involuntary Movements

The term Involuntary Movements refers to a broad range of motions and these are divided into types as shown below.

1. Restless Leg Syndrome

This occurs when the body experiences an unpleasant sensation that urges movement in the legs, torso, head or arms. Movement of that part, walking, stretching or yoga can stop the sensation for a short while, but it can return later. The sensations that can be experienced are aching, tickling, crawling of the skin, poking of pins, slight pain or numbing of the part. This is generally noticed while relaxing, studying, attempting to sleep or reading.

2. Dystonia

This can be caused by unrelenting contractions of the muscle and can cause repeated motion, twisting of limbs or awkward postures. Symptoms indicating dystonia include dropping items, trouble swallowing, dropping items, muscle cramps, trouble in sitting comfortably, shaking in the diaphragm when inhaling, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, stress, uncontrollable shutting of eye lids and hyperventilation. Its treatment only offers symptomatic relief and includes stress control, relaxation, regular exercise and limited motion.

3. Myoclonus

Another type of involuntary movements in the muscles is myoclonus. Sudden jerks can be caused by rapid contracting of the muscle or unexpected lulls in contractions. Negative myoclonus refers to relaxations of muscles and conversely contractions are positive myoclonus. These spasms may or may not occur in a pattern or sequence. Sometimes they occur several times a minute, while at other times they are separated by large time gaps. Strong twitching can inhibit motion and restrict the ability to perform various daily functions.

4. Tics

Repeated and stuttering motions of separate groups of muscles are known as Tics. These are generally sudden and can be noticed in different parts of the body, such as motions in parts of the face, twitches of limbs, involuntary clapping, uncontrollable shrugs, blinking and motions of the mouth.

5. Tremors

Rhythmic relaxing and contracting of muscles which lead to forward and backward motion of some body parts are called tremors. Parts of the body that can be affected are the limbs, face, tongue, eyes, head and torso. These motions become accentuated when the person is undergoing stress or heavy emotion. It can also cause trembling when vocalizing and cause trouble doing physical work like drawing, writing or holding utensils.

6. Other Causes

  • Unexpected and jumpy movements of the body that occur suddenly are indicative of chorea. It generally lasts only for a moment but can move to other parts of the body.
  • Sustained involuntary movements, which occur in a single location like the fingers, toes, feet or hands, are known as athetosis.
  • Hemiballismus can cause an entire limb to jerk and it may appear to an observer that the person is attempting to throw off the limb.

What Are the Causes of Involuntary Movements?

Such uncontrollable motions can occur due to various factors. Sometimes it is temporary and disappears over a short period, but in some cases it may be a permanent condition due to damage of the central nervous system, and it gets worse with time.

Both children and adults can be affected. In adults, a genetic disorder, impact of medicinal drugs, a stroke, tumors, brain injury or diseases of the nervous system could be the culprits. However in children it could be caused by reduced oxygen at birth, excess bilirubin in the nervous system or genetic disorders.

How to Deal With Involuntary Movements

If your involuntary movements bother you, you need take measures to alleviate that. Here are measures that might help:

1. Physical Therapy

Generally such movements can be controlled with physical exercises like stretching, walking, swimming or exercises that help with coordination, and these can help control progressing damage.

2. Support Group

It is important to develop a support group to help fight the psychological impact of such involuntary movements. Repeated instances of uncontrollable motions that relentlessly recur require medical attention. Authorized personnel will be able to provide an accurate diagnosis after studying the history of the patient, symptoms and results of any prescribed tests. While many cases of uncontrollable motion can be improved with a course of medicines, some cases improve on themselves. A doctor will be able to provide a wealth of information about the muscle and nervous systems of the body, and prescribe the treatment required.

3. Exercise to Relieve Involuntary Muscle Movement

At times these motions can be ignored and serve as merely irritants; however, in some cases they can seriously hamper one's lifestyle. In such cases, exercise can help. Here are some steps that can help stop these motions:

  • Consult a doctor and get a professional opinion about the cause for such motion. Understanding the cause will help develop a more effective exercise regime.
  • Forcing movement of the muscles in the affected region and strengthening them may stop the involuntary contractions. Sit-ups for muscles in the lower body, pushups for the upper body and walking on a twitching foot are some simple examples.
  • Regular yoga will relax muscles which can loosen up the body and weaken involuntary movements of the muscles.
  • Sometimes the nerves running through the joint closest to the affected part could be the culprit. It is possible that a knot in this joint is causing an adverse reaction. Pressing a rubber ball daily to work the nerves and attached muscles can help strengthen this joint.
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