Motor Tic Disorders: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

This article will demystify motor tic disorders, providing readers with a clear, concise understanding of what these disorders are, their potential causes, the symptoms to look for, and the current treatment options available.


Tics refer to sudden and repeated movements, twitches, or sounds that a person does, which they cannot control or stop. Someone with chronic motor tic disorder might grunt throughout the day unwillingly, while someone with provisional tic disorder might shrug their shoulders unwillingly throughout the day. 

Tic disorders are grouped into three categories:

  1. Tourette syndrome (TS)
  2. Chronic motor tic disorder, sometimes called persistent or vocal tic disorder
  3. Provisional tic disorder

These three disorders differ from one another based on the type of tic a person has and how long they have had it. TS and chronic motor tic disorder present for more than one year, while provisional tic disorder presents for less than one year. 

TS is different from chronic motor tic disorder and provisional tic disorder in that people with TS can have vocal and motor tics while the other two have one or the other, not both. 

man with Motor Tic Disorder

Exploring Motor Tic Disorders

A doctor can usually make a diagnosis based on a physical examination without any additional tests. When the tics persist nearly every day for up to or more than a year and can be confirmed during an appointment, a diagnosis is usually possible.

Diagnosis for chronic motor tic disorder

Chronic motor tic disorder is more common than TS. In order to be diagnosed with vocal tic disorder or chronic motor tic disorder, an individual must:

  • Have multiple motor tics or vocal tics but not both
    • Examples of motor tics include blinking or shoulder struggling
    • Examples of vocal tics include yelling words, clearing the throat, or humming
  • Have tics that happen many times during the day or nearly every day for more than one year
  • Have tics that begin before 18
  • Have symptoms that are unrelated to other conditions like seizures or Huntington’s disease
  • Have no diagnosis of TS

Diagnosis for provisional tic disorder

In order to be diagnosed with provisional tic disorder, an individual must:

  • Have multiple motor tics or vocal tics but not both
  • Have symptoms that have not existed for longer than 12 consecutive months
  • Have tics that begin before 18
  • Have symptoms that are unrelated to other conditions like seizures or Huntington’s disease
  • Have no diagnosis of TS or chronic motor tic disorder

Recognizing the Symptoms

Symptoms include sounds or movements that are repeated with no goal, reason, or ability to be controlled. They can include:

  • Making grimaces
  • Quick movements of the legs or arms
  • Clearing the throat
  • Contracting the abdomen
  • Grunting
  • Excessive blinking 

There are many kinds of tics, and sometimes symptoms are managed for a short time, but then the urges get worse with illness or stress or other external factors like:

  • Excitement
  • Heat
  • Stress
  • Fatigue 
OCD And Psychosis

Investigating the Causes

The exact causes of provisional tic disorder or chronic motor tic disorder are unknown. Current investigation believes that the causes are due to changes in the areas of the brain responsible for controlling movement.

Most motor tic disorders run in families, and as such, there is likely a genetic cause. However, motor tic disorders also tend to manifest in people who have other mental health conditions, such as:

  • ADHD
  • OCD

Sometimes, motor tic disorders are triggered by serious health conditions like Huntington’s disease or drug abuse from things like amphetamines or cocaine.

Treatment Options

One of the most important things is to get a diagnosis as soon as you notice symptoms. Children who develop this disorder between the ages of 6 and 8 years old tend to do well. Symptoms might start at a young age and last for up to five or six years but then stop without the need for any treatment

However, the disorder can also begin in older children and continue well into their twenties. If you are noticing the symptoms beginning in an older child, that could indicate a lifelong condition, one that requires treatment. 

When a tic becomes severe, or it disrupts daily life, it might be time to consider help for my medical professional.

Depending on the severity and how the condition affects daily life, your treatment might include a combination of medication or therapy.

  • Therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, is most applicable when tics have an impact on school or job performance. Other therapies include comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics or CBIT.
  • Medication can help control or reduce the tics, but you have to consider the potential side effects as it relates to cognition or movement.

Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT)

CBIT is a non-medicated treatment option that helps individuals:

  1. Become more aware of their tics.
  2. Train themselves to use competing behaviors whenever they have an urge to tic.
  3. Make changes to daily life that can reduce tics.

Once you receive a diagnosis for yourself or your child, it’s important to learn as much as you can about motor tic disorders and the possible treatment options for managing symptoms. Don’t hesitate to:

  1. Talk to your doctor about any concerns.
  2. Read up on Facts from reputable sources.
  3. Talk to a therapist about additional mental and behavioral help to manage stress and external, exacerbating factors.

The Impact on Daily Life

Tics can interfere with several facets of daily life. For example:

  • Physical tics like quick movements of the legs or arms can cause a person to unintentionally hit their loved ones or someone physically close to them at work, school, home, or while traveling. 
  • Vocal tics can disrupt social conversations, meetings, events, work, or school. 

Tics can also continue while an individual is sleeping. This means it interferes with sleep quality, too, exacerbating symptoms during the day and leading to irritability and health complications from poor sleep quality. 

Summing Up

Recognizing and addressing motor tic disorders like provisional tic disorder or chronic motor tic disorder effectively hinges on early detection, informed care, and supportive networks. Whether dealing with provisional or chronic conditions, understanding and patience are key.