An involuntary movement
occurs when you move your body in an
uncontrollable and unintended way. These movements can be anything from
quick, jerking tics to longer tremors and seizures. You can experience these
movements in almost any part of the body, including the neck, face, and limbs.
There are a number of types of uncontrollable movements and
causes. Uncontrollable movements in one or more areas of the body may quickly
subside in some cases. In others, these movements are an ongoing problem, and
may worsen over time.
Are the Types of Uncontrollable Movement?
There are several types of involuntary movements. Nerve
damage, for instance, often produces small muscle twitches in the affected
muscle. The main types of involuntary movements include the following:
Tardive Dyskinesia (TD)
Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a neurological condition. It
originates in the brain and occurs with the use of neuroleptic drugs. Doctors
prescribe these drugs to treat psychiatric disorders.
People with TD often exhibit uncontrollable repetitive facial
movements that can include:
- rapid blinking of the eyes
- protruding tongue
- smacking of the lips
- puckering of the lips
- pursing of the lips
According to the National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), tetrabenazine is
the only currently approved drug for this condition, but other medications have
also shown some efficacy. You should talk with your doctor to determine which
treatment is right for you.
Tremors are rhythmic movements of a particular body part.
They’re due to sporadic muscle contractions.
According to the Stanford School of
Medicine, most people experience tremors in response to factors such as low
blood sugar, alcohol withdrawal, and exhaustion. However, tremors may also occur
with more serious underlying conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and
Myoclonus is characterized by quick, shock-like, jerking
movements. They may occur naturally during sleep or at moments when you’re
startled. However, they can also be due to serious underlying health conditions,
such as epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease.
Tics are sudden, repetitive movements. They’re classified as
simple or complex, depending on whether they involve a smaller or larger number
of muscle groups. Excessively shrugging the shoulders or flexing a finger is an
example of a simple tic. Repetitively hopping and flapping one’s arms is an
example of a complex tic.
In young people, tics most often occur with Tourette’s
syndrome. The motor tics that occur as a result of this disorder may disappear
for short periods of time. The affected individual may also be able to stifle
them to some extent.
In adults, tics may occur as a symptom of Parkinson’s
disease. Adult-onset tics may also be due to trauma or the use of certain
drugs, such as methamphetamines.
This refers to slow, writhing movements. According to the Stanford School of
Medicine, this type of involuntary movement most often affects the hands
Causes Uncontrollable Movement?
There are several potential causes for involuntary
movements. In general, involuntary movement suggests damage to nerves or areas
of the brain that affect motor coordination. However, a variety of underlying
conditions can produce involuntary movement.
In children, some of the most common causes of involuntary
movements are hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen at the time of birth, kernicterus,
which is caused by an excess pigment produced by the liver called bilirubin, or
cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder that affects the body’s
movement and muscle function.
Kernicterus is now rarely seen in the United States due to
routine bilirubin screening of all newborns.
In adults, some of the most common causes of involuntary
- drug use
- the use of neuroleptic medications that are prescribed
for psychiatric disorders over a long period
- brain injury
- degenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s
- seizure disorders
- untreated syphilis
- thyroid diseases
- genetic disorders, including Huntington’s
disease and Wilson’s disease
Is the Cause of Uncontrollable Movement Diagnosed?
Make an appointment with your doctor if you or your child
are experiencing persistent, uncontrollable body movements and you’re unsure of
Your appointment will most likely begin with a comprehensive
medical interview. This will go over personal and family medical history,
including any medications you’ve been taking or have taken in the past.
Other questions may include:
- When and how did the movements start?
- What body parts are being affected?
- What seems to make the movements worse or
- Does stress affect these movements?
- How often are the movements taking place?
- Are the movements getting worse over time?
It’s important to mention any other symptoms you may have along
with these uncontrollable movements. Other symptoms and your responses to your
doctor’s questions are very helpful in deciding the best course of treatment.
Depending on the suspected cause, your doctor could order
one or more medical tests. These may include a variety of blood tests, such as:
- electrolyte studies
- thyroid function tests to rule out thyroid
- a serum copper or serum ceruloplasmin test to
rule out Wilson’s disease
- syphilis serology to rule out neurosyphilis
- connective tissue disease screening tests to
rule out systemic lupus erythematosus and other related diseases
- a serum calcium test
- red blood cell counts
Your doctor could also request:
- a urine test to rule out toxins
- a spinal tap for spinal fluid analysis
- an MRI or CT scan of the brain to look for
- an electroencephalogram
Psychopharmacology testing can also be helpful for diagnostic
testing. However, this depends on whether you’re taking certain drugs or
For instance, TD is a side effect of using neuroleptics over
a certain period. Whether you have TD or another condition, the effects of any medication
need to be examined during testing. This will help your doctor make an
Are the Treatment Options for Uncontrollable Movement?
Your outlook can vary, depending on the severity of this
symptom. However, some medications can reduce the severity. For instance, one
or more medications can help keep uncontrolled movements associated with
seizure disorders to a minimum.
Physical activity within your doctor’s guidelines can help
enhance your coordination. It may also help slow muscle damage. Possible forms
of physical activity include:
- balancing exercises
You may find support and self-help groups helpful if you
have uncontrollable movements. Ask your doctor for assistance in finding and
joining these types of groups.