By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
A twitching thumb can be very worrying indeed, particularly as the twitching is so noticeable. If your thumb is always twitching you may be worried that you are suffering from a neurological problem. But is a twitching thumb a serious concern? What causes your thumb to twitch, and is there anything you can do about it?
In most cases, a twitching thumb is not the sign of anything dangerous. But it can be very annoying, and could also cause pain and discomfort. Find out more about the reasons for a thumb twitch, and what you can do naturally to relieve this strange condition.
What Are Muscle Twitches?
Your muscles twitch all the time, although most of the time these movements go unnoticed. Twitches are small, involuntary movements that affect a small muscle group. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine there are many possible causes of a twitching thumb.
What Causes Your Thumb to Twitch?
Various factors affect the muscles that control your thumb, from widespread body conditions to more specific reasons affecting just the hands. Dehydration can cause muscles to twitch, as can a deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals.
If you overuse your thumb by playing sport or even texting it could result in muscle twitches or spasms while the muscles try to recover. Lack of sleep can result in twitching muscles in the thumb.
A twitching thumb could signal a wider problem with anxiety or panic disorder, or underlying stress. Or it could be a sign of a neurological problem or nerve damage.
Most of the time the reason for a twitching thumb is benign. But if your thumb twitches a lot, or the twitching persists for a long period of time and you have other symptoms, it is a good idea to visit your doctor. If you are troubled by minor thumb twitching it could be quickly relieved by resting the thumb, getting enough water, checking your medications to make sure there are no interactions, and sticking to a healthy exercise routine.
We checked out the latest scientific research to find out about natural remedies for muscle twitches and twitching thumb.
1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Can Cause Thumb Twitching
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition affecting the median nerve which passes through your wrist. This nerve gives sensation to the thumb as well as the index finger, the middle finger, and the side of the ring finger closest to the thumb. It can cause a tingling sensation, muscle weakness, aching, or numbness. It may also result in twitches.
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects one percent of the population and five percent of the population that works using repetitive hand movements, according to a 2000 study from the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Surgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is the most frequent surgery of the hand and wrist.
But recent research has found that surgery is not the only option for treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Physical therapy works too. A 2017 study from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Alcorcon, Spain discovered that physical therapy is just as effective as surgery for treating this condition.
The researchers discovered that after one year of treatment, people with carpal tunnel syndrome who had physical therapy saw results that were comparable to those who had surgery. They looked at 100 women with the condition. Physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome is an effective treatment for this condition that may be causing your thumb to twitch, ache, and tingle.
2. Could Thumb Twitching Be a Sign of Lou Gehrig's Disease?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a collection of neurological diseases that affect the neurons that control voluntary muscle movement. It is also called motor neuron disease Lou Gehrig's disease.
The condition is not curable and thumb twitching is one of its symptoms.
But the condition is also very rare, with around 14,000 to 15,000 people in the US affected by it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016.
There are different risk factors for ALS including older age, being male, and being Caucasian. Other symptoms, which get progressively worse over time, include muscle twitches in the arms and legs, muscle cramps, tight muscles, slurred speech, and difficulty chewing.
Here is an surprising fact. A diet high in carbohydrates and calories can help slow the progression of ALS, according to a 2014 study from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The researchers found that mice which were fed a diet high in calories and fat were more likely to live longer when they had ALS. They then tested this idea on humans, looking at 20 patients who had advanced ALS and who were divided into three groups eating a high-carbohydrate/high-calorie diet, a high-fat/high-calorie diet, and a standard diet. Patients in the high-carbohydrate/high-calorie group experienced fewer adverse events connected to ALS and there were also no deaths in the group.
It is important to know that in most cases of ALS muscle twitching comes after muscle weakness, so if you have thumb twitches and no weakness you are unlikely to be suffering from the condition.
3. Thumb Twitches Caused By Benign Fasciculation Syndrome
Benign fasciculation syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by twitching muscles, including the muscle in the thumb. As the name says, this condition is benign and it does not cause long-term damage.
Experts link benign fasciculation syndrome with psychological factors, and in a 2009 study from Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh found that “a significantly higher number of patients with BF [reported] a past history of psychiatric symptoms, life stressors….” and that “these findings support our hypothesis that BF are a manifestation of psychological distress.”
4. Your Thumb Could Be Twitching Due to Panic or Anxiety
Anxiety and panic disorders may result in benign fasciculation syndrome, as descried above, or they could result in a single isolated incidence of a twitching thumb. Anxiety and stress are known to cause muscles to twitch.
In a 2015 study into muscle twitching in ALS from the University of Padova in Italy researchers found that a hypnosis-based treatment was successful at alleviating some of the symptoms of the disease.
The study looked at 15 people who took part in a hypnosis treatment plan over three to six months. Participants experienced a decline in anxiety levels as well as improvement in other physical symptoms like twitches.
5. Playing Video Games May Cause a Thumb Twitch
Repetitive motion injury is one of the most common causes of thumb twitching and you can pick up this injury from playing video games and texting – any activity where you are constantly using your thumb at an angle it probably wasn’t designed for.
Keeping the thumb in this unnatural set of positions can lead to inflammation of the nerves and tendons controlling the thumb muscles.
A 2012 study from Queen's Hospital, Burton-on-Trent, UK related the unusual case of a serious thumb injury sustained while playing a Wii active video game.
The injury was similar to that which could have been sustained playing the actual sport the video game was based on, according to researchers.
6. Your Thumb Can Twitch Due to Mechanical Injury
A mechanical injury is where the ligaments surrounding the thumb joint are irritated or torn following sport or a direct blow.
You may experience thumb twitch after skiing, for example, or following a long game of golf.
A 2003 study from Boston University School of Medicine found that relaxation therapies that helped manage stress reduced the number of injuries suffered by competitive athletes.
7. Vitamin D Deficiency May Cause Your Thumb to Twitch
In some cases, a deficiency of vitamin D can result in muscle twitches and these twitches can include the thumb. It is important to get enough vitamin D through exposure to sunlight as it is not easy to get vitamin D from food.
In fact, a 2017 study from Touro University California suggests that sunscreen could be contributing to vitamin D deficiency as it can reduce the body’ production of the vitamin by 99 percent, according to the researchers. However, using sunscreen is obviously essential when it comes to protecting against skin cancer and sunburn.
Experts suggest that you avoid using sunscreen for 30 minutes, twice a week, when you are exposed to the midday sun in order to avoid vitamin D deficiency and associated thumb6twitching problems.