Why Is My Calf Muscle Jumping?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

calf muscle jumping

This last week, I saw a patient who had calf muscle jumping. In fact, unlike other cases, which can be subtle, this one was really easy to see, so I took some video and thought I’d share this with you. So what causes calf muscle jumping?

Calf Muscle Jumping?

The calf muscle is called the gastrocnemius muscle by healthcare professionals. Every muscle has an innervation, which means a nerve that tells it what to do. When that nerve is irritated or damaged, the muscle it supplies tends to jump or “fasciculate” (medical term). This is just a reflex response of the muscle when it has no instructions from the nerve on how to behave.

In the case of the calf muscle, it’s innervated by several spinal nerves, including S1 in the low back which then becomes the tibial nerve in the leg. So if there’s pressure on that S1 nerve from a bulging or herniated disc or an injury to the tibial nerve, the result can be calf muscle jumping.

What Does This Look Like?

Many times the calf muscle jumping is pretty subtle, so if you’re not looking for it, you may not notice it. I have it personally from time to time, so I know that I notice it, but many patients don’t even know it’s happening. However, it jumped out while examining a patient this week, so I decided to take a video of the calf as well as the ultrasound image.

Look at the video of the calf muscle above. You can see the muscle jumping. Now look at the ultrasound image of the same muscle and you can see the muscle jumping as well. On the right, I also included an ultrasound video of another muscle in the leg that isn’t innervated by the sacral nerves. Notice how much calmer that muscle is on the ultrasound (almost no jumping).

How Can You Fix Calf Muscle Jumping?

Since the most common cause of calf muscle jumping is irritation of the S1 nerve in the low back, this problem is usually caused by a disc bulge or arthritis pressing on or irritating that nerve. Hence, the way to treat it is to treat the nerve. We have successfully treated this problem by precisely injecting the growth factors from the patient’s own blood platelets around the irritated nerve. This is called a platelet lysate epidural. If the disc bulge is bigger and if the disc degeneration isn’t too severe, the problem can also be treated with a precise injection of specially cultured stem cells into the bulge. This procedure can reduce the size of the bulge by healing the injured fibers that cause the bulge.

The upshot? Don’t ignore calf muscle jumping. It’s a sign that the nerve that supplies the calf muscle isn’t happy. If it happens once or twice and never again, you may want to blow it off; however, if it keeps happening and won’t go away and your doctor tells you to ignore it, then you may want to find a new doctor!

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12 thoughts on “Why Is My Calf Muscle Jumping?

  1. Scott Fairbanks

    My calf muscles have twitched after a hard workout for as long as I can remember. I ran through high school and college and remain active now, I’m 46. I have never had back problems. My forearm muscles, and eyebrows tend to twitch from time to time as well. While this indicate there MAY be a problem with nerves, it doesn’t indicate that there IS a problem with nerves.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Scott,

      There are many different things that can cause muscle twitching in many different, or multiple areas. We’re talking specifically about a leg in which the calf muscle repeatedly “jumps” as in the video, over time.

  2. Richard

    One of the treatments for Torticollis is Botox but its effectiveness is a function of the accuracy of the injection point. Do you think a stem cell treatment might relies/repair the muscle “twitching” that underlies the Torticollis?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Richard,
      Determining the actual cause of what’s going on, determining the best treatment to address it, and using imaging guidance are all very important to outcome. While Botox often provides temporary relief, it can cause significant damage, so yes regenerative treatment is a much better solution. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/botox-for-headache-reviews/
      and https://regenexx.com/blog/tightness-in-the-side-of-the-neck/

  3. judi

    Again this is an amazing post. I had severe and progressive jumping calf muscles which grew to muscle cramps at night in calves and feet for the last few years. So so so bad.
    I would have to get up often in the night to take a hot bath to have the muscle relax. Sometimes 2-3 times a night. My sleep was destroyed.
    The doctors, acupuncturists, friends and any one who would listen all had different ideas and solutions. Take more water, eat calcium, eat bananas, potassium, magnesium, stretch, massage, acupuncture etc. NONE of it worked.
    I felt I was doomed to be sleep deprived the rest of my life.
    When I finally contacted Centeno- Schulz clinic about another issue (previously commented on another blog) for torn cartilage in the ankle and osteonecrosis of the talus, Dr Schulz looked at MRI of ankle knee and also xrays of back. There was the culprit. Back issue from years ago which I thought was resolved were causing this leg issue. Dr Schulz performed the platelet lysate epidural, along with my SD stem cell procedure on my ankle. Other than a few twitches here and there I have finally been able to sleep soundly for 4 months WITHOUT night cramps.
    This is a real miracle.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      judi,

      Wonderful to hear you’re doing well! Sadly, diagnosis is so often missing in medicine today…

  4. JJ

    Could something similar be happening when your toes curl by themselves? This seems to happen more often at night when lying on my back.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      JJ,

      Yes, it could be.

  5. Chad Freeman

    What happens if you blow it off? What is the risk? Not that I will but could be good for the audience to know.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Chad,
      If it is a spinal nerve issue, these things tend to create bigger problems overtime when not treated.

  6. fred

    my calf has been jumping for 30 years and i have a bad back also s 1 L5 L4 my MRI says dics are clear of nerves and 40% of bone gone L5 doctor said you were in a accident what do you say ??? can you help

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Fred,
      We’d need to take a look. Please submit the Candidate form here if you’d like to see if we can help: https://regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/back-surgery-alternative/

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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