Maybe watching your favorite show on TV or browsing the Internet, and suddenly you experience a spontaneous episode of calf muscle twitching. Or perhaps, like what happens with me on occasion, you’ve just finished an intensive round of exercise, CrossFit for example, and that exertion is followed with some calf muscle twitching. Has this ever happened to you? I know it well, and it can certainly be concerning. So what causes your calf muscle to twitch or jump, and should you be worried about it if it’s a consistent occurrence? Believe it or not, the answer can often be found in your low back.
Let me explain by first reviewing the spinal nerves (and be sure to watch my brief video above).
The Spinal Nerves Are the Middleman
The spinal nerves transmit signals from your brain that tell your muscles to contract. So the spinal nerves are the middlemen that connect the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa. When those signals become disrupted for some reason, or there is irritation to the nerve, this can cause parts of your muscles to twitch (the medical term for “twitch” is fasciculate).
I’ve blogged before about how the body is one big connected machine (the knee bone is connected to the ankle bone and so on), yet the medical industry has broken us down into component parts by treating the body by each section rather than as a whole. To effectively treat a patient, we need to treat the body as the whole unit that it is, and the spine is a good example of this. For one fascinating example, we can look all the way down to the foot—bunions. Bunions are more than just bunions, yet an orthopedic surgeon will “fix” them surgically by removing them. Bunions, however, can be caused by nerve irritation in your low back, so if the root cause isn’t also addressed, more problems are likely to follow. This is an example of only treating the sign (the bunion) of a much bigger problem (the spine issue that resulted in the bunion) and not considering the body as a whole.
Likewise, calf muscle twitching can be the sign of a bigger problem: a problem in the low-back spinal nerves.
Calf Muscle Twitching: The Low Back and Calf Muscle Connection
The nerves that branch off of your spine in your low back connect to the muscles in the legs. Specifically, with the calf muscle, we are looking at nerves from about the L5 (fifth lumbar-level vertebra) to the S2 (second sacrum-level vertebra) as it’s the S1 and S2 nerves in the spine that usually supply the calf muscle. When there is a problem in this area, such as a pinched nerve or bulging disc, this irritates the nerve and can cause calf muscle twitching.
So do you need to do anything about it? Yes, you should have your low back checked. The calf muscle twitching may be your first sign that there is a problem, and tracking it down as early as possible and addressing the problem if there is one will assure that no further damage is done. You might ask, but wouldn’t my back hurt if I had a pinched nerve or a problem with a disc? Maybe or maybe not. Your back may or may not be stiff or sore yet because, as I mentioned, the calf muscle twitching can be the first indication that something is wrong.
This low back and calf muscle connection is so important that the damaged nerves in this area of the low back can lead to calf tears. This happened to me, and one of my warning signs leading up to my calf tear was twitching and jumping in my calf muscle. Incidentally, while I did have some mild low back pain once in a while, it was rare. The nerves are so imperative to our calf muscles (and this is true for any of our muscles throughout our body) that if the nerves stay damaged long term, this can even cause shrinkage and eventually atrophy of that calf muscle.
The upshot? So what if you have your calf muscle twitching checked out and find that you do indeed have an irritated nerve in your low back? Then what? First, your irritated nerve can usually be helped with either physical therapy or the injection of fourth-generation platelet lysate, which is growth factors isolated from your own blood platelets. Next, be sure to pat yourself on the back because you’re ahead of the game, and treating it now could save you further damage down the road.