Motor tics often affect the facial muscles, causing movements such as twitching, blinking and grimacing 

Tourette's syndrome

Tourette's syndrome is a condition where both motor and phonic tics are experienced over at least 12 months.

It is a relatively common condition in the UK, affecting around 1 in 100 children.

Read more about Tourette's syndrome.

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Tics are rapid, repetitive, involuntary contractions of a group of muscles.

They can occur as:

  • motor tics (bodily movements) – such as facial twitching, grimacing, blinking and shrugging the shoulders
  • phonic or vocal tics (sounds) – such as coughing, grunting, clearing the throat and sniffing

Most tics are mild and infrequent and they may not even be noticeable to the person experiencing them or to others. However, some tics can be frequent and severe.

Read more about the types of tics.

When to see your GP

You should visit your GP if you or your child develops a tic and they:

  • occur regularly or become more frequent or severe
  • are associated with emotional problems or physical discomfort
  • are accompanied by other worrying moods or behaviours, such as anger, depression or self-harm

Your GP should be able to diagnose a tic from a description of the symptoms and by observing them. Special tests aren't usually required. If possible, it can be helpful to record the movements on video so that you can show your GP.

What causes tics?

It's not clear exactly what causes tics, although they are known to be related to the parts of the brain that control movement.

Tics often appear to run in families, so there may be a genetic reason why they develop. Tics can also be caused by certain types of medication or other health conditions, such as cerebral palsy.

There are things that can make tics worse, such as anxiety, stress, tiredness and excitement.

Most tics start during childhood. People who have them experience periods when they're better and periods when they're worse. This is often described as ‘waxing and waning’.

For many people, tics are only temporary. They tend to improve during the late teenage years or early adulthood.

Read more about the causes of tics.

Treating tics

If you have a mild tic, you may decide that treatment isn't necessary. However, a number of different options are available.

Behavioural therapies are often recommended as a first choice treatment for tics. They include:

  • Habit reversal therapy (HRT), which aims to help you learn 'responses' (other movements) which 'compete' with tics, meaning that the tic cannot happen at the same time. HRT teaches you to use these competing responses when you get the feeling that you need to tic, until the feeling goes away.
  • Exposure with response prevention (ERP), which aims to help you get used to the overwhelming unpleasant feelings that are often experienced just before a tic.

There are also a number of medications that can improve tics in some people. In particularly severe adult cases, a new surgical treatment for tics called deep brain stimulation may be used.

Read more about treating tics.


Although tics often improve over time, they can cause some problems. In particular, you or your child may find it more difficult to make friends and you may experience bullying.

Studies have also shown that having a tic can affect your performance at school or work.

Read more about the complications of tics.

Page last reviewed: 30/01/2013

Next review due: 30/01/2015


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

JadeyLou said on 27 September 2014

Hello. Just wondering if others think the same as me. My son is 7 years old. Since a baby he has flicked his ears. Last year he had grommets inserted and i put the ear flicking down to that. He still continues to do this with excitement but over the past year things has been added during his excitement. He clears his throat, whistles, flicks his ears, fidgets and his left arm goes wild. I went to the doctor for advice and she said hay fever for the clearing of his throat and that he is just an active boy! Obviously the hay fever medication did not work. This has been going on for 7 years and getting worse. He says hes just excited. I have recorded him doing this and he even slaps himself. He says he just excited, he doesn't know he does it, can not stop and doesn't feel it. Even when i ask him to stop he still does it. I believe this is a tick. What do i need to do? Thanks.

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nancyTB said on 04 December 2013

my dear friend tells me her 5yr old grand daughter has developed a tic in the form of shaking her legs and bearing her teeth. this happens when she is tired or nervous, I have suggested going to her GP and perhaps enrolling her in a combat sport ie judo/karate to build her confidence. is there any help/hope you can give me to pass o to her? NancyTB

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dkrao57 said on 04 October 2012

It is not clear from the article whether a tic disorder is a
habit or involuntary.(They are two different things). Whether it is related to mental health or neurology
( Medical). I find many children inappropriately diagnosed
tics/ Tourettes in the mental health care where the psychologists / nurses have inadequate exposure to neurology.

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