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What is a Nervous Tic?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A nervous tic is an often uncontrollable muscle spasm in the body. It can be caused by a variety of conditions, and can become much worse in situations that stress the body. Acute tics are quite common, and may be experienced by anyone. Chronic tics that do not subside may be a sign of tic disorder, which may require treatment or medication.

Nervous tics are often noticed in children who have not yet reached puberty. Commonly, these tics subside within a few months or years. Some experts believe that the rapid twitching movement is not entirely involuntary and may be able to be controlled to some degree. Anxiety and stress can reduce the body’s ability to control a tic, leading to greater frequency of tic symptoms experienced during periods of tiredness.

Most often, tics take the form of a muscle group spasming. Frequently, people will experience muscle contractions around their eyes, lips, legs or wrists. You can also experience vocal or phonic tics, leading to coughing or throat clearing. These types are called simple tics, and will often subside with rest.

Complex tics are less common and can be a sign of more serious disorders. They can be difficult to distinguish from compulsive disorders, and may take the form of repetitive large movements or compulsive shouting. Complex tics are often associated with variations of Tourettes syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by multiple physical and phonic nervous tics.

If you are experiencing a tic caused by nerves or anxiety, get some rest. As your body relaxes, your ability to regain control over the movement will increase. Some complementary medicinal practices recommend acupuncture as a means of helping cure simple tics. If the condition worsens or does not subside after a few days, you may wish to check in with your doctor. They can determine if the condition is likely to be temporary or permanent, and may be able to prescribe medicine to reduce the spasm.

Tic disorder is often misunderstood or misidentified, leading to tremendous confusion about what a tic means or suggests. The disorder is frequently portrayed as obsessive-compulsive disorder or severe Tourette's syndrome, much to the dislike of those suffering from a recurring nervous tic issue. While some media stories attempt to portray the condition accurately, nervous tics are often treated as comical fodder and even associated with lack of intelligence or mental health issues. It is important to understand that most nervous tics are the body’s natural reaction to stress, they are temporary, and while irritating, are not usually harmful.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon285422 — On Aug 15, 2012

My son was diagnosed with ADHD and auto process disorder and an involuntary tic with start two years ago. They put him on intuniv 2mg and it has slowed them down, and helped the ADHD.

I started him on B6 it it seems to help, also. I read about this and omega 3 Dha and extra Vitamin C. Also, he needs a balanced diet.

Please, if you have anything else, post it here. Does it get worse when they get older or does it go away?

By anon149366 — On Feb 04, 2011

You should take him to see a neurologist as soon as possible, for a proper evaluation could save him a lifetime of harassment or at the very least, help to alleviate some of the symptoms and some of your worries.

Tics do return, often due to stress or other factors. It is possible that it has an environmental or medicinal cause. Medications such as Phenergan can cause dystonia. Untreated this can become permanent.

On the flip side, a nervous tic disorder often begins in childhood and can come and go. Stress or illness can set it off, and when made aware of it by another person, you become self conscious and the jerking becomes more predominant, as this brings on additional stress and embarrassment.

I am sure you can tell that I suffer with this issue and have since childhood. I have periods where I do not tic, or do not tic as much. Those are times when I am at peace in my life.

There are treatments and if he has a true disorder, you will want to explore those options. Trust me when I say children can be mean and also, maybe it is simply a medication that set it off. In instances of dystonia due to a medication, the tics can be reversed, however they can also become permanent. The sooner you treat it, the sooner they go away and the less chance of recurrence, if that is the case.

Either way, a neurologist will have the most knowledge regarding this issue as it is a disorder of the central nervous system. I hope this helps and I hope your son has no additional recurrences of this problem. Also, be aware that the jerking movements can also cause physical discomfort.

By anon138555 — On Jan 01, 2011

my son had a nervous tic for nearly six months. It consisted of a violent neck jerk which worsened under stress. It had appeared to go away for six months but now pretty much the same week as it appeared last year it has come back again, but different: this time a leg movement and small movement of the neck. We are concerned as we weren't aware it could return! Open to discussion on this.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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