What is a Tic?

What Are TicsOne of the most common questions I get after telling someone I have Tourette Syndrome is, “Wait, so like, what are your tics?” I think this question is harder to answer than actually telling people I have Tourettes. It feels like I’ve just told them,

“I do weird things,”and then it feels like they ask,

“So what weird things do you do?” It can be intimidating to tell people that I have vocal and physical habits that “deviate” from what’s considered normal. Unfortunately, thanks to mass media, many people assume I’m going to confess my great love of cussing (Because we’re all just dying to break out in a string of cuss words in public for fun, right?), so it surprises people often when I explain my tics. They’re not what people think.

“Well, I blink, making squeaking sounds, rub my thumb on my lip, and tense up my muscles, to name my most common ones,” I tell them. “I have more, but they only come out when I’m really stressed.” Most often, the response is a blank stare, followed by,

“So those are tics? I didn’t think those could be tics. I thought you cussed a lot.”

So What is a Tic?

Having tics is the defining symptom for having Tourette Syndrome, its less severe sibling, Chronic Tic Disorders, or other disorders such as PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections). They can also show up after a severe injury to the brain, such as one might sustain in a bad car accident, or as a side effect from certain medications, according to NHS England.

Pretty much anything can be a tic. If your body can do it, it can be a tic. WebMD’s article, “Tic Disorders and Twitches,” defines tics as,

“…spasm-like movements of particular muscles…These short-lasting sudden movements (motor tics) or uttered sounds (vocal tics) occur suddenly during what is otherwise normal behavior. Tics are often repetitive, with numerous successive occurrences of the same action. For instance, someone with a tic might blink his eyes multiple times or twitch her nose repeatedly.”

KidsHealth.org’s article, “Tics,” defines a tic as,

“…a sudden, repetitive movement or sound that can be difficult to control.”

Healthline’s article, “Transient Tic Disorder,” describes tics as,

“A tic is an abrupt, uncontrollable movement or sound that does not relate to a person’s normal gestures.”


Tic Classifications

There are different classifications for tics, motor vs vocal (Do you do it with you muscles or with your voice?) and simple vs. complex (How many muscles groups are involved in the movement?) As I said, there are all different kinds of tics, so many that there isn’t a definitive list of what can be a tic and what can’t. Why? Because every person’s body and brain is different. This means the tics his brain comes up with will be different from those of his neighbor with tics.


I created this table based on information from Mayo Clinic, TouretteSyndrome.net, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, TSA-USA (one of the leading support groups for individuals with Tourettes in the United States), and my own personal experience.Common Tics

The tics listed here are some of the more common tics found in people with Tourettes. My first tic was blinking, which was then followed by throat clearing, Squeaking, and my lip touching tic. My tics showed up as many tics do. Rapid, repetitive blinking is seems to be considered the most common first tic that shows up in children with Tourette Syndrome or tic disorders.

There are more extreme versions of tics that can be found in more severe cases, however. Probably the most popular one is Coprolalia, or the infamous swearing tic, where individuals who suffer from this particular tic can blurt out socially and culturally inappropriate words and phrases. There are a few things to know about Coprolalia, however:

  1. Coprolalia is found in only 10% of people with Tourettes, according to Live Science’s article, “Why Does Tourette’s Make People Curse Uncontrollably?” (I’ve heard 5%-15% from other sources as well.)
  2. Live Science also says that Coprolalia is said to be caused by some form of neurological damage, although we’re not sure why yet. It can also be found in individuals with
  3. The individuals who do suffer from this disorder don’t do it for attention or fun. In fact, it can be highly embarrassing when it does occur, and as with other tics, must be treated with care and kindness.

Because Tourette Syndrome (and tic disorders) are on a spectrum, the severity of tics will differ in individuals. My Tourettes is fairly mild so my tics are generally manageable with good diet, exercise, and self-taught management techniques. There are some individuals, however, who have symptoms so severe they interfere with safety and health, such as this young man here.

Medical Miracle Tourettes

New Treatment for Tourette Syndrome Changes Boy’s Life.

Treatment and Management

There are multiple forms of treatment and management for individuals with tics:

  1. Medication – I’ve never needed medication myself, but for some people, medication is what really helps them get their lives back on track when the tics are too much to handle, and there’s nothing shameful about it.
  2. Diet – While I don’t believe diet will cure true Tourettes, I know that my tics get a lot worse when I don’t eat healthy food. The way I see it, your brain will only function as well as the fuel you put into it.
  3. Exercise – Because many tics are often related to anxiety, exercise is a great way to both lower anxiety and lower tics. After really strenuous workouts, I can often go 10 to 15 minutes where I don’t even feel the need to tic. (Heaven!)
  4. Behavioral Therapy – According to Tourettes Action in the UK’s article, “Behavior therapies and Tourette Syndrome,” behavior  therapy is being used to help some individuals with tics by helping them learn to be mindful of what their brains and bodies are doing.
  5. Deep Brain Stimulation – This is the type of treatment talked about in the video clip posted above, only used for the most severe cases, as it’s still considered experimental.

One of the most important parts of treating and managing tics is simply the diagnosis. Once you know you’re dealing with tics, it can be easier to pinpoint and manage with the help of a primary care manager, family, and friends. It’s also important to remember that a diagnosis of a disorder with tics isn’t the end of the world; we must remember that under the tics is still the individual, and that person is a beautiful creation of God who’s simply struggling with the burdens of life like the rest of us.

Do you have any information on tics that you’d like to share? What about questions? I’d love to hear your comments and questions, so please post them in the Comment Box below. Also, don’t forget that if you sign up for my weekly newsletter, you’ll get extra resources on neurological disorders, as well as a gift in thanks for signing up. Thanks for reading!

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One comment

  • Tic-ed off. on September 26, 2017 at 1:36 am said:

    Hi. I have a tic where I tense my abdominal muscles all the time.. literally…
    most of the time I can hide it by moving. Thinking about it makes me do it more so I get really tense when someone like family members who know about it mention that I’m doing it more often than normal. Duh. I know I can feel it. It will usually go away when I’m sleeping but it takes forever to settle to even get to sleep. I can pretty much tell if im getting sick or if something is wonky with my body because I will start doing it more frequently. It drives me crazy most of the time because it’s tensing my abdominal muscles and after you do that all day long thousands of times it starts to get sore. I run ALOT. Running makes my mind go numb and I don’t usually tic during it. Also I noticed when I’m doing absent minded things like watching tv or reading I will do them more often! Gah. Ive taken lots of different types of medications to help with anexity and ADHD but none of it really helped them go away. My physician told me I would grow out of them by 18. They started one random afternoon while I was watching tv when I was 12.. I’m 24 now. Haven’t grown out of them. I hope one day I’ll wake up and they won’t be there. Any other ideas that help with them?

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