Voluntary muscles get their name because normally we can control their actions. In contrast, involuntary muscles, such as the heart, beat to their own rhythm. The muscles in our hands and thumbs are voluntary muscles. Sometimes, though, our voluntary muscles seem to go rogue, twitching uncontrollably. There are a number of reasons your thumb might twitch, and sometimes there’s no discernable reason why. If your thumb seems to have a mind of its own, here are some reasons why it twitches sometimes. (Spoiler: While it can be distracting, even distressing, thumb twitching is rarely cause for concern).
Twitching Thumbs Basics
Twitching (the medical term is fasciculation) involves small muscle movements in a limited area. Thumb twitches may be caused by the misfiring of a single nerve fiber, or the muscle fibers may contract on their own, without stimulation from nerve fibers.
Twitching can go unnoticed, especially if a person is busy or distracted. When the twitching becomes a source of worry, though, it’s important to remember that the majority of thumb twitching is temporary and benign.
Just like any part of your body and mind, your thumbs react to internal triggers and external stresses. Some common reasons thumbs may start twitching include –
- Sleep deprivation, which can cause exhaustion in any part of our body.
- Too much caffeine or other stimulants, which can cause you to get the shakes or tap up a storm in a meeting or lecture. To overcome this, try to limit caffeine intake. Morning coffee is okay, but avoid energy drinks or caffeinated sodas.
- Side effect of prescribed medications – In some cases, prescribed medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, diuretics and blood pressure medications can cause an electrolyte imbalance that can cause involuntary twitching in the thumb or elsewhere in the body. If you believe this is the case, notify your doctor, who may re-evaluate your prescription or dosage.
- Dehydration, which can cause cramping and dryness in the joints. Avoid sugary or energy drinks; when it comes to hydrating yourself, stick to water or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice.
- Anxiety and stress, which have a way of manifesting in strange ways in our bodies.
- Intense or new type of exercise – you may be trying a new exercise or routine, but be careful not to strain your hands or thumbs in the process. Try changing up your exercise routine. For example, if you are lifting free-weights, give your hands a rest for a few days. Try stretching exercises that include your hands and your upper back and arms. If you ride a bicycle, either stationary or on the road, be sure to wear padded gloves to avoid the tingling sensations that can occur from gripping the handlebars.
- Repetitive motions – be sure that you aren’t developing tendonitis or carpel tunnel syndrome when you are engaged in activities that strain the hand or thumb. When possible, evaluate your workspace to ensure it is ergonomically correct for you, and investigate adaptive devices such as corrective keyboards or voice-to-type devices to reduce strain. If you believe your twitching is sports-related, reach out to a performance coach to ensure you are doing everything correctly.
- Poor diet lacking. Diet matters. Seek out foods that are rich in Vitamin D, Calcium and Magnesium, which are instrumental in building strong muscles and tendons and can prevent cramping and twitching.
Underlying Medical Causes
Although rare, a twitching thumb may be the sign of an underlying medical condition. For example, autoimmune disorders, in which the body wrongly targets and attacks healthy tissues, can cause thumb twitching, among other symptoms. Nervous system disorders that involve miscommunication or loss of communication between the brain and the muscles, may result in thumb twitching. These and other medical conditions can cause a loss of feeling or sensation in limbs or other parts of the body, muscle wasting, and weakness and should be evaluated by a medical doctor.
When to Call Your Doctor
Though there’s no reason for concern about thumb twitching in most cases, if it doesn’t resolve on its own in a few weeks, give your doctor a call and make an appointment to be seen. That way you can get advice about how to improve your symptoms and make sure there isn’t an underlying cause that needs treatment.
If you are experiencing thumb twitching or other issues with your hands, call the board-certified hand surgeons and specialists at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder. Located conveniently throughout Maryland, we are ready to help you. Call our main office number today (410) 296-6232 or request an appointment online at one of our locations in the Greater Chesapeake area.