A tic is a sudden, repetitive movement or sound that is difficult to control

Young woman with worker

Forward Thinking Birmingham logoMental health advice from Pause, part of Forward Thinking Birmingham

No one knows for sure what causes tics and twitches but it is thought to involve how the nerves in our brain talk to each other. Tics can become a habit, which then makes them extra difficult to control or break. Many types of tics no one will ever notice, but some may bother you or get in the way of things. Tics are not usually harmful.

Tics that involve body movements are called motor tics and those that are sounds from our mouth are called vocal tics. Tics can be either simple or complex depending on what is involved. A condition called Tourette’s syndrome is when someone has both motor and vocal tics for a long time.

Common motor tics

  • Nose wrinkling
  • Facial twitching
  • Touching things
  • Kicking
  • Lip biting
  • Head twitching
  • Eye blinking

Common vocal tics

  • Coughing
  • Throat clearing
  • Grunting
  • Sniffing
  • Hissing
  • Barking
  • Sometimes people can also have difficulties with swearing without wanting to

Top tips

  • Talk to someone: Some young people with tics experience embarrassment and loneliness and try to keep their tics or feelings a secret. It's important that you don't bottle things up – speak to someone you trust.
  • Practice talking about ticsIt’s a good idea to practice how you will explain your tics to others as this will give you confidence in sharing your experience with them.
  • Listen to your body: Tics can start with a sudden build-up of tension inside you: some people say it’s like a hot or itchy sensation that they want to get rid of. The tic usually provides relief and you feel a bit better. Understanding your own body responses is important – try mapping it out on a picture or writing it down.
  • Spot patterns: Tics usually get worse when you are stressed, worried, tired, excited or self-conscious. Spotting when your tics are best and worst can help to control them.
  • Take charge: Your tics are only a very small part of you. Sometimes when we worry about things they can feel bigger than they actually are, and we lose confidence that we can overcome them. Don’t let your tics define you – take charge!
  • Relaxation: Because tics involve body responses, it’s even more important to work out the best ways in which you relax. We know that tics reduce when we are relaxed.
  • Professional help: If your tics are really getting in the way of your life, you may need extra support from someone trained to help. This might include talking or behavioural therapy. There are special types of therapies available for people with tics.

Top clips and stories

Extra information