Does Exercise Cause Muscle Twitching?

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A woman is massaging her knee and leg. (Image: belchonock/iStock/Getty Images)

Experiencing twitching muscles after an exercise session is not uncommon, particularly if your muscles are fatigued or you are not getting enough electrolytes in your body. Taking measures to alter your workout routine and watch your diet can help avoid twitching in many cases. If your twitches persist, however, consult a doctor to rule out an underlying medical disorder.

Muscle Twitches

Muscle twitches, medically referred to as fasciculations, are contractions of small muscle groups that are not particularly strong and are localized to one area. According to Sports Medicine physician John Su, post-exercise twitches are very common in the calf, hamstrings and quadriceps, and are essentially low-grade cramps. Unlike cramps, however, muscle twitches are not painful and usually only last for a few seconds, although they might re-occur during a period of several hours.

Causes

Twitches can be caused by a variety of underlying issues. Although the exact reason post-exercise twitches occur is not clear, commonly cited causes include dehydration, muscle fatigue, electrolyte deficiencies and lack of a proper warm-up and stretching routine. In some cases, the twitching is a the result of overdosing on a drug, particularly caffeine, or is the side effect of a prescription medication. Less commonly, a nervous system disorder or other underlying medical condition is to blame.

Treatment

Most exercise-related twitches are temporary and go away without treatment. If they last longer or are particularly distracting, taking time to massage and stretch the affected muscle can help relieve the twitching. Resting the muscle and taking a hot bath can also help relieve the twitch. Twitches that persist for more than a few minutes at a time or occur consistently outside of exercise may indicate an underlying medical problem. Consult a doctor if this is the case.

Prevention

To reduce the likelihood of post-exercise muscle twitching, drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Hydrating after exercise with an electrolyte-enhanced sports drink can also help. Ensure you eat a nutrient-dense diet that contains plenty of electrolytes, particularly potassium and magnesium. Warm up before exercise and gently stretch your muscles, both after your warm-up and after exercising. Avoid drinking too much caffeine before exercising. Exercise at a steady pace, and make gradual changes to your regimen, avoiding sudden jumps in duration or intensity. Don't push your muscles to the point of fatigue, and stop exercising if your muscles get tired or sore. Talk to your doctor about any medication you are taking to ensure twitches are not a side-effect.

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