Chronic Motor Tic Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Chronic Motor Tic Disorder

What is chronic motor tic disorder?

A condition known as chronic motor tic disorder involves brief, uncontrollable, spasm-like movements or vocal outbursts (otherwise known as phonic tics or vocal tics), but not both at the same time. This condition is known as Tourette’s Syndrome if the physical tics are combined with vocal outbursts.

Tourette syndrome is less common than chronic motor tic disorder, but this is more common than transient tic disorder. This is a self-limited, temporary condition characterized by tics. It is also possible to experience dystonic tics, which cause abrupt bursts of movement followed by sustained contractions.

Typically, vocal tic disorders appear before the age of 18, and they resolve between 4 and 6 years after the onset. Treatment is available to minimize the impact on schoolwork or employment.

Check all: Tic Disorders

What causes chronic motor tic disorder?

The reason some children develop motor tic disorder earlier than others and what causes it are not completely clear. Some think physical or chemical abnormalities in the brain can cause chronic motor tic disorder.

A neurotransmitter is a chemical that transmits signals from one part of the brain to another. Sometimes they misfire or do not communicate as they should. This leads to the same “message” being sent repeatedly. This causes the physical tic.

What are the risk factors for phonic tic disorder?

Chronic motor tic disorders are more likely to develop in children with a family history of tics or twitches. Vocal tic disorder is more common in boys than in girls.

Identifying the symptoms of chronic motor tic disorder

You may experience any of these symptoms:

  • Facial grimacing
  • Shrugging, blinking, jerking or twitching too much
  • Moves your legs, arms, or body suddenly and uncontrollably
  • Grinds, grunts, or throat clearing

People can experience strange bodily sensations prior to tics. Most of the time, they can restrain the symptoms for short periods, but it requires effort. Occasionally, they give into the tics.

Things that may make tics worse include:

  • Stimulation and excitement
  • Fatigue or sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Extreme temperatures

Read: Tourette Syndrome

Diagnosing vocal tic disorder

A doctor can diagnose tics in the course of a regular office visit. If your child or you have phonic tic disorder, you must meet two of the following requirements:

  • You have to have almost daily tics for over a year.
  • An extended period of tic-free time is required.
  • You have to have started ticking before you turned 18.

It can’t be diagnosed by a test.

Treating a chronic motor tic disorder

You’ll receive different types of treatment for chronic motor tic disorder depending on how bad it is.

Behavioral therapy

It is possible for a child to learn to control their tics for a short period of time by engaging in behavioral treatment. Symptoms in children with tics significantly improved after being treated with a comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics (CBIT), according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To help children with tics, CBIT teaches them to recognize the urge to tic, and to replace or counter it with another response.

Read: Motor Disorders


Drugs may be useful in controlling tics. Some of the medications that are commonly used include:

  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Pimozide
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Topiramate (Topamax)
  • Clonidine
  • Guanfacine
  • Cannabis-based medications

Several studies suggest that dronabinol (dronabinol) can help treat tics in adults. Children, adolescents and women who are pregnant or nursing should not take cannabis-based products.

Other medical treatments

Certain dystonic tics may be treated with botulinum toxins (also known as Botox injections). People may also benefit from electrode implants in the brain.

Read: Facial Tics Disorder

What can be expected in the long term?

It is common for children between 6 and 8 to develop chronic motor tic disorder. These symptoms usually resolve on their own within four to six years.

Those with vocal tic disorder who begin experiencing symptoms at an older age and continue experiencing symptoms into their 20s may never be able to outgrow it. They will be living with it for the rest of their lives.

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