Twitches, starts and other body oddities explained

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PinkPanther
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27 Mar 2006, 9:11 am

Twitches, starts and other body oddities explained
by Rich Maloof for MSN Health & Fitness

Our bodies are like houses, the working parts all strung together with pipes and wires. Gastroenterologists are plumbers, neurologists are electricians, and we are the homeowners who keep up the maintenance and hope nothing goes awry. Yet something always does. Here’s a look at some of the strange things we can’t avoid while living in these odd bods.

Twitches

We are all a little spastic sometimes, and there’s nothing to make you feel more like a spazz than the uncontrollable twitch of an eye or a thigh or a thumb. These little jumps under the skin, called fasciculations, are not well understood but apparently result from nerve abnormalities, which in turn trigger a response in muscle groups associated with that nerve. Caffeine, stress, lack of sleep and even healthy exercise can prompt fasciculations. You can get a twitch just about anywhere you have a muscle, and it’s not uncommon to feel them—and see them—in a calf, in the small muscle between the thumb and forefinger, or in the tongue.

Ear wax

Skin inside the ear is lined with cerumen glands, which are similar to sweat glands except that they excrete wax. The wax coats the walls of the ear canal and traps dirt on its way through, not entirely unlike a Roach Motel.

The wax usually works its way out of the ear naturally, taking the trapped dirt along with it, but sometimes it builds up. There are several home remedies and wax-irrigation products, but if your problem is getting sticky, consult a doctor. The process known as “ear candling,” where wax is heated and drained, is not recommended and makes for very gross candles.

Funny bone

Smacking the so-called funny bone is amusing only to other people. The pain and numbness that follows is due to hitting the ulnar nerve, which is protected by nothing other than a thin layer of skin where it passes around the outside of the elbow. The same nerve gives sensation all the way down the arm, and if you press on it hard enough you will feel your pinky and ring fingers go numb.

Toe cheese

Toe cheese is named for both its fetid smell (c’mon…you smelled it) and the white, cakey glop reminiscent of the crumbled cheese you get on a $15 salad. If the odor is very similar to the aroma of food you’ve been served, you should a) wash your feet thoroughly and scrub between toes, and b) seek other places to dine. The white color is due to the fact that the main ingredient is sock lint, which combines with dead skin, dirt and bacteria. Black, blue and other sock-colored cheeses are common in people who dress a little nicer.

Hiccups

Hiccups are caused by spasms of the diaphragm, and like other spasms they are impossible to turn on voluntarily and troublesome to turn off. The diaphragm is the muscle at the base of the lungs, and a spasm causes a sharp intake of air. The characteristic sound is the glottis (the opening between the vocal chords) closing reflexively. All this can make it difficult to eat, talk, sleep or sneak up on anyone.

Home remedies are based on raising the level of carbon dioxide in the blood (breathing into a paper bag, holding your breath) or stimulating the vagus nerve (drinking water through a washcloth, pulling gently on the tongue, rubbing eyeballs), which runs from the brain to the stomach and may be responsible for the spasms.

Shivers and chatters

Just like rubbing two sticks together creates friction and fire, the body shakes to generate more heat. Shivering hands, trembling legs and chattering teeth are all localized reactions to the body’s attempt at raising the temperature.

Shivers are a common symptom of the flu. Raising body temperature helps mobilize the antibodies that fight infections and viruses, which is why the body also creates a fever.

Brain freeze

No one understands exactly why we experience acute (though short-lived) brain pain from swallowing something too cold too quickly. In truth, the sensation is around our sinuses and face; there are no pain receptors in the brain, so we can’t feel pain there. The ice headache may be due to chilling the trigeminal nerve, which is located near the back of the mouth and is responsible for all sensation to the head and face.

Sleep starts

One moment you’re drifting off to la-la land, and the next instant—whoa!—you’re dropping off a cliff. Sleep experts believe the brain sometimes gets the wrong message from the body during the transition into sleep, and associates the lack of muscle tension with being in midair. Arms and legs then jerk suddenly as they would to break a fall. Not yet realizing the body is simply at rest, the brain also instantaneously conjures a story to account for the sudden jump, and that’s why we picture ourselves falling, slipping or missing a stair.

Jumping when startled

A useful leftover from our primal fight-or-flight days is how we instinctively defend ourselves from unforeseen conflict in a split second. The body prepares to deal with a threat in several ways before the brain even has time to assess the situation. When surprised, we instantly distance ourselves by jumping away and facing the threat. Muscles stiffen and we steady our feet in a fighting stance. Adrenaline surges, increasing our strength, speed and heart rate. Other reactions to sudden fear or surprise include widening of the eyes, clenching of the fists and jaw and, in men, the retreat of genitalia—kind of a “first things first” response.

Hair standing on end

Each hair on your body is held in place by a follicle, which is like a tiny tube in the skin. Sometimes, in response to fear, cold or even a light touch, muscle fibers connected to the follicle contract and cause the follicle to stiffen—making the hair in there stand up straight. Now imagine hundreds of those little follicles standing up straight and what do you have?

Goose bumps

This little body oddity is most likely another component of the fight-or-flight response, but no one is sure what good it actually does. If something intends to eat you, it probably won’t be stopped by the sight of a thousand tiny hairs standing on end. Although, it works for porcupines.

http://health.msn.com/menshealth/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100125753



ilikedragons
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27 Mar 2006, 10:31 am

I hit my funny bone once my arm really hurt and it went to my hand. I never got brain freeze.



hale_bopp
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27 Mar 2006, 10:02 pm

Twitching is due to your boady eating magnesium. (stress also depletes this supplement) You need to take a supplement.



renaeden
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28 Mar 2006, 6:58 am

Guess I need some more magnesium....
But, lol, this information was very funny, I want more.
:lol:



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28 Mar 2006, 7:13 pm

I can give myself goosebumps at will by making "s" noise into my oversensitive left ear.



TheBladeRoden
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28 Mar 2006, 7:31 pm

PinkPanther wrote:
Goose bumps

This little body oddity is most likely another component of the fight-or-flight response, but no one is sure what good it actually does. If something intends to eat you, it probably won’t be stopped by the sight of a thousand tiny hairs standing on end. Although, it works for porcupines.


I think on furrier creatures poofing the hair makes them look bigger.


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09 Apr 2006, 12:37 pm

Goose bumps and hair standing on end are sort of related. Chances are, you've seen an angry animal with it's hair standing on end. Because animals have so much hair, it makes them appear larger, and stronger. Goose bumps come from the hair follicles, and where they leave the body. When a person's hair stands on end, we only have enough hair to keep the hair follicles hidden on our heads, and the same effect happens all over our body. The only problem is that the hair follicles on other body parts, like arms and stuff are easily seen in this state.



moomin
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09 Apr 2006, 3:30 pm

he didn't explain belly button fluff!



Callista
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10 Apr 2006, 7:55 pm

I think perhaps goosebumps heighten skin sensation. The tiny hairs on our skin are good receptors for touch--try poking at a single hair with the tip of a pencil, and you'll feel the touch. If goosebumps make the hairs stand up, then you are more likely to feel things further away from your skin before they actually touch you.

The theory is that the hair on our bodies, while not having any appreciable role in keeping our body temperature even, play a role as touch receptors and even sense air currents. I first thought about this while shaving my legs: After I shave my legs, and direct the stream of air from a hair dryer at them, I feel almost nothing. However, if the same stream of air is directed at my arms (which I don't shave), I can feel the air perfectly. If you wish to test this yourself, doing so is quite easy...

I imagine knowing which way the wind is blowing, how hard it is blowing, etc., might be useful to a human living outside civilization; weather would be a large influence in such a person's life. And, naturally, enhancing the sense of touch when sensing physical objects which make contact with skin surfaces other than the extremely sensitive hands and lips, which are hairless, can also be quite useful.

A single touch receptor can only send impulses from a very small area immediately around it; but if it is connected to a hair, its range of effect widens considerably. So, in the areas where touch receptors are not as narrowly spaced as in the fingertips, hands, and face, body hair takes up the slack, allowing for impulses just as strong, but not as precise, as those from the more sensitive areas of the body.

Disclaimer: This is my own theory; I have not read or heard it anywhere yet (though I am sure it has been considered already by professionals).


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This_is_DarkDay
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23 Apr 2006, 5:16 am

Don't test the ulnar nerve with the back of you hand. I did. The result a sore hand



ilikedragons
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23 Apr 2006, 10:50 am

I dont think I ever ate something too cold too quickly.



emp
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23 Apr 2006, 12:14 pm

That is a poorly researched article. The explanation given for goose bumps is incorrect. Here is the proper answer:

http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/1672.html

BTW, since I am linking to Go Ask Alice!, I may as well also mention that it is a very useful service for getting answers to health and sexual health questions.