Your tongue is composed of several muscles, so like the muscles in your legs, your tongue can also experience spasms!
Your muscles keep you moving. But sometimes, your muscles may spasm or move involuntarily for various reasons. While muscle spasms occur most often in the legs, your tongue can also suddenly and painfully contract and spasm.
You may not know it, but your tongue comprises eight muscles that allow you to chew, swallow, and speak. So it’s not surprising that your tongue, like muscles elsewhere in your body, suffers an occasional brief spasm. Yet if you’re experiencing repeated and prolonged tongue spasms that interfere with your ability to speak and eat, you may have a condition known as lingual dystonia. Here’s a look at what may be causing the condition and what you can do about it.
What is lingual dystonia?
Muscle spasms typically develop from dehydration or muscle fatigue. That’s why your muscles may cramp and spasm after a long run or intense workout. It could also be due to low levels of electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium, and calcium in the body. Once you hydrate or get the electrolytes back into balance, the muscle spasms will likely stop.
The same concept applies to the tongue. However, persistent lingual dystonia may be idiopathic, meaning there is no apparent cause. Sometimes the condition runs in families. Certain medications or a tongue injury can also cause the tongue to spasm or move uncontrollably.
Although an exact cause may be difficult to discern, lingual dystonia is believed to stem from an abnormality in the basal ganglia, the part of your brain that controls motor function or movement. The abnormality then leads to a misfire in the signals between your tongue muscles and brain, resulting in painful spasms.
How lingual dystonia is managed
If your tongue spasms don’t resolve after several minutes and make it hard to speak and eat, talk to your dentist about treatments. Therapy can help manage the symptoms of lingual dystonia.
Know the Triggers. Speaking and eating can sometimes trigger a spasm. When that happens, stop what you’re doing and give your tongue a chance to relax.
Relaxation Exercises. If you feel a spasm coming on, practice some exercises to ease the cramp and distract you from the spasms. Stretch your tongue out, or touch your lips or chin. Simply putting a finger under your chin or biting on a toothpick may alleviate the cramp. Chewing gum can also help.
Physical Therapy. Tongue spasms may interfere with your speech and swallowing. If you find swallowing difficult, you may choke unexpectedly on your food. Physical therapy can show you techniques to help you speak and eat despite the spasms.
Medications. Oral medications such as clonazepam, trihexyphenidyl, diazepam, tetrabenazine, or baclofen have improved lingual dystonia in some patients.
Botulinum Toxin. An injection of botulinum toxin, or Botox, may temporarily relieve spasms by paralyzing tongue muscles. You may need another injection after several months as the effects fade. Botox comes with side effects, including slurred speech and difficulty swallowing.
Lingual dystonia can be a painful and sometimes debilitating disorder. Yet it can be managed with the support of your dentist and medical professional.
We treat your entire mouth
Schedule an appointment at Espire’s Fort Collins location today! Our highly trained dentists can examine your entire mouth, including your tongue, to determine if you have lingual dystonia. We can offer treatment options. Don’t live near our Fort Collins, Colorado, office? Find one of our other locations near you.
2117 Custer Drive
Fort Collins, CO 80525