If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced thumb twitching at some point in your life. You probably also thought that it was ALS.
Many people automatically assume the worse with a symptom like this (like Parkinson’s disease for example).
However, you shouldn’t panic because there are dozens of causes for involuntary twitching, many of which aren’t serious or life-threatening.
For example, it could be that you drank too much coffee, that you’re dehydrated, or that you have nerve damage.
Only in very rare cases will it be something as serious as carpal tunnel or ALS. In this article, we’ll explore all of the possibilities.
What Causes Thumb Twitching?
A muscle twitch is nothing more than the movement of a small muscle group.
They are a normal part of your physiology, and rarely mean anything serious. Sometimes, though, they can indicate a problem with your nervous system.
As we said earlier, there are dozens of causes to this strange symptom. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Muscle Overuse: Have you been working with your hands a lot lately? If so, it could be that the muscles in your thumb were overexerted.
- Dehydration: Are you drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day? If not, it could cause your muscles to spontaneously spasm.
- Vitamin D Deficiency: Vitamin D is required for normal physiologic function. The best way to get it is through sun exposure.
- Nerve Damage: If you have a pinched nerve in your thumb then this can lead to chronic twitching. Most of the time, it goes away on its own.
Additionally, thumb twitching can be caused by stress and anxiety.
If you’re someone who easily gets stressed or worries about your health, then this can manifest with physical symptoms.
We recommend exercising or meditating daily to minimize your anxiety. It might also help to listen to music or do something you’re passionate about.
When to See a Doctor
This symptom is, for the most part, harmless. However, if you notice that it doesn’t go away, then see a doctor.
Typically, serious disorders like ALS are associated with weakness and twitching.
So if your muscle isn’t atrophying (getting smaller), and it doesn’t feel weak, then you’re probably okay.
Remember that ALS is extremely rare, and generally only affects people over the age of 50.
If you’re younger than that, try not to panic.
Other Common Causes
Earlier, we covered some of the common causes of this symptom. But now, we’re going to talk about a few more that you should know. They include:
- Playing Video Games: Do you play a lot of video games? Well, this could be causing your thumb twitching. Playing video games requires that you move your thumb repetitively. This can lead to overexertion, and ultimately, inflammation and irritation of the surrounding nerves. Fortunately, this isn’t life-threatening and should go away once you give the muscles in your thumb time to fully recover.
- Mechanical Injury: Your thumb joint is surrounded by ligaments that help stabilize it. And like all areas of the body, it’s prone to injury. Repetitive movements of your thumb can cause these ligaments to tear or become overstretched. This is why, for example, skiers experience this symptom so often. It’s because they use their fingers a lot. If it’s a mechanical injury causing your symptom, rest should make it go away.
- BFS: In this article, we spoke about the differences between BFS and ALS. BFS is a neurological disorder in which all the muscles in your body twitch spontaneously. Just remember: it’s completely harmless. BFS has never killed anyone, and never will. Is it annoying? Absolutely. But it won’t lead to muscle wasting like ALS. BFS can be chronic, or come and go. Usually, it’s brought on by excess stress.
If you have thumb twitching combined with twitching in other parts of the body, then that makes it even more likely that it’s something benign.
Generally, ALS begins in a specific part of the body (like the fingers) and works its way up the extremity. If you have random twitching all over the place, that’s actually a good sign.
Signs of ALS
ALS is an acronym that stands for “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis”.
It’s a neurodegenerative disease that causes your motor neurons (the neurons that control your skeletal muscles) to die.
As a result, people with this disease become immobilized, although their brains remain perfectly functional.
From the time of diagnosis, most people only live 2-5 years, although some can live much longer (like famous physicist Steven Hawking).
As you may know, one of the symptoms of ALS is twitching. However, that’s not the only symptom, or the most significant one.
ALS is mostly characterized by muscle wasting. If you’re not experiencing muscle weakness, then you’re probably okay.
Likewise, if your muscles aren’t getting smaller, then there’s nothing to worry about.
With that said, if your thumb twitching is associated with not being able do basic things- like screwing a cap or playing a guitar- then you should consult a doctor.
Could it Be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Another worry people have is being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is where the median nerve enters the hand.
If this area becomes inflamed, then it can cause involuntary twitching, tingling, burning, and even pain. And yes- this includes your thumb.
Statistically, carpal tunnel syndrome is way more common than ALS. How can you tell if you have it? Here are some at-home tests you can try:
- Tapping: Tap over the carpal tunnel area. If this causes you to experience pain in the fingers, then it’s more likely that you have CTS.
- Wrist Flexing: Try to flex your wrist and hold the position for about 60 seconds. Pain and tinkling are signs that you could have CTS.
- Weak Hand Grip: If you aren’t able to grip things as strongly as you used to, then that’s another sign of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Thumb twitching also happens with CTS, but that’s such a common symptom that it’s impossible to make a diagnosis with it alone.
You need to look at any additional symptoms you’re experiencing to determine what’s wrong.
Starting today (or tomorrow if it’s night time), try to get more sun. Vitamin D deficiency is very common, mainly because people don’t spend enough time outdoors.
Without enough vitamin D, your muscles will begin to spasm. Additionally, start drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day.
Even if you’re not thirsty, try to force them down.
Remember: once you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Be proactive and drink enough so that you don’t get thirsty.
Finally, thumb twitching can be avoided by not overexerting the muscles in your hands. Take a rest for a few days and see if your symptoms change.
We recommend that you wait a week or two and see if your symptom changes.
Remember to drink more water, get more vitamin D, and most importantly, rest.
That should make it go away. If it doesn’t go away after a week or two, or if it gets worse or starts spreading, then that’s when you should see a doctor. But until then, it shouldn’t cause you to panic.