Is your thumb twitching lately?
Have you learned that muscle twitching is one of the symptoms of ALS?
Does your thumb twitch and “jump” for no apparent reason?
Can a twitching thumb mean something serious, even deadly?
The reason a twitching thumb can really cause worry is because the thumb is a very small part of the body — a digit — and when muscles of a digit (be it a thumb, index finger or toe) twitch, the digit typically jumps.
It is the jumping that often worries a person when the thumb twitches, but whether or not a finger jumps or visibly moves, upon twitching, has absolutely nothing to do with the likelihood that there’s a fatal disease process going on.
The thumb contains voluntary muscles. So why wouldn’t it occasionally twitch?
Just like other muscles twitch (upper legs, back, arms, calves, etc.), the thumb is not exempt to this very common, benign phenomenon.
The worry factor kicks in because when a thumb twitches, it can be seen in action.
A person’s fixation and worry over a twitching thumb may evolve into imagining that the unit is weak, smaller than the other or visibly atrophied — possible signs of ALS — provided that these symptoms are real and not imagined, that is.
If you find yourself putting your fingers through all sorts of strength tests, and still not feeling assured that nothing is wrong with your body, then consider this statement from Kristina Lafaye, MD, board certified neurologist and full time clinical staff and director of the neurophysiology lab at Ochsner Medical Center:
“Weakness in ALS is progressive and not intermittent. There are no good days.”
Once the weakness is present, it will always be present and will only get worse.
This is in contradistinction to the weakness and “off days” that may be experienced by athletes and normal, active people.
A fairly typical scenario for an individual with ALS is this:
The person is fit and active, and begins to develop an isolated symptom of weakness such as unilateral foot drop.
The weakness is subtle at first. The person attributes this to a bad knee or some type of orthopaedic problem.
Over time, not only does this problem not go away, but other signs of weakness develop in other parts of the body.
This is an insidious process, and most people do not initially come to a neurologist for these signs and symptoms.
Dr. Lafaye is assistant professor of clinical neurology, and director, Neurology Student Education at Tulane University School of Medicine.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.